How to “serve” to an adaptive challenge?

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Adaptive leadership is a response to adaptive challenges which are complex, not very well analyzed or -for several reasons- ignored challenges. The adaptive leadership requires a very honest elaboration of the challenge by questioning how each individual affected by the problem plays a part in its creation and existence.

Both servant leadership and adaptive leadership emerge to deal with a critical need or problem. On the other hand, the servant leader does not need to mobilize and engage people as much as an adaptive leader. The solution to the problem is most of the time more obvious for servant leaders while adaptive leadership demands a completely brand-new approach to the challenge. The adaptive leader aims to develop people’s capacity to solve their problem instead of dealing with the symptoms of the problem.

Adaptive leadership suggests that conventional leadership styles only works for technical problems which can be identified and solved in a short time. An in-depth analysis is an important step of the adaptive leadership as “challenges are typically grounded in the complexity of values, beliefs and loyalties rather than technical complexity and stir up intensive emotions rather than dispassionate analysis”.* The method of the leader is to make people question their own roles, interests, and stakes in the problem which is not possible without an active participation and willingness of the related community. Adoptive leadership suggests that “the problem lies in people, solution lies in them too”.** In that sense, the adaptive leader may not be as popular as a servant leader by encouraging people to face with their cultural, social and political dogma. The courageous, participatory and challenging way of the adaptive leadership means asking the right questions and creating an environment where everyone is able to express their ideas that otherwise they would keep to themselves.

The adaptive leader may not be as popular as the servant leader, however to be able to effectively address an adaptive challenge every leader must use some techniques of the adaptive leadership: not to direct or lead people but to facilitate and encourage people to turn to themselves, to be honest enough to see their own stake in the problems. As such, every adaptive leader needs to have some elements of servant leadership, a leadership style which highlights commitment and the pursuit of common goals versus personal goals.

by Derya Kaya

*The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky

** The Theory Behind the Practice: A Brief Introduction to the Adaptive Leadership Framework by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky

2 Comments on “How to “serve” to an adaptive challenge?”

    1. I think addressing an adaptive challenge is a though job in any sector, but it is an effective and sustainable way of creating a positive change and increasing problem-solving capacity within organizations. I also think that addressing symptoms of a problem as a servant leader is important but servant leadership should always include an adaptive leadership element which means engaging other people to the problem-solving.

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