Nurturing adaptive capacity – Learning need #2

What managers must learn in order to nurture adaptive capacity in their organisations – Learning need #2

Engagement levels in organisations are on the decline. Yet the cry for high engagement, responsibility and intrapreneurship on the part of the workforce uttered by managers and owners alike has never been louder. While young people enter organisations fresh and full of energy, after a short while they become bored and jaded, infected by the prevalent misanthropic attitudes around them.  They either adapt and wilt, or drop out to found their own start-ups. There they work twice as much for sometimes half the money and three times the risk. What is going on?

The command-and-control model of leadership – even if officially declared dead and dysfunct – is still alive and kicking, exerting it’s damning influence on the work-force. Managers feel superior and entitled, their egos must be considered at every turn, even if they know much less than their staff members and simply do not have the information or experience to take sensible, well-considered decisions about the many issues that come their way. Decision-power at the “right” level is essential for organizations to be as nimble and adaptive as they need to be in this day and age.

What would be a better approach towards nurturing adaptivity?

The answer is not hard to come by and has been given many times. How many decades have we been hearing about empowerment, inspirational or transformational leadership, silent or humble leaders, or the leader as a host? Maybe the message was said too often or too loudly, or maybe it was couched in over-generalized terms. It is time that it were finally heard.

Leaders still suppress the voices of the very people on whom they must rely to deliver their visions. They show little genuine respect and the higher up in the organisational echelons we go the worse this attitude can get. Feedback for the manager? Only in theory, or maybe tentatively once a year.

Instead, these managers could be critically asking themselves: “How effective am I in enabling my team to deliver in the best possible way? What can I do to make my team lively and engaged? How can I bring out the best in my staff members?” And to go one step further and ask: “What can I learn from my team members? Who can I ask to lead us today? How can I listen better to gain valuable information and insight?”

What could adaptive leaders do differently?

Adaptive leaders know when to step back to let their team members shine. They have a sense of self with enough maturity that allows them to do that. They have won the fight against their egos, and become true coaches for their people. They can be humble and accept learning from everyone. Through this they inspire the full contribution of the people they work with.

This is what Georgine, cellist in the New Zealand National Youth Orchestra, writes as a feedback to her conductor Benjamin Zander:

Mr. Zander,

Your shine has inspired me to believe that I have the force of personality to power the section from wherever I sit and I believe that I led that concert from the 11th chair. Thank you for helping me know that. From this day I will be leading every section in which I sit – whichever seat. Stone Zander, Rosamund and Benjamin Zander (2000): The Art of Possibility. Harvard Business School Press. 

If this feedback is possible in a profession normally renowned for it’s tyranny and vanity, it must be possible also in other, less hierarchical organisations.

Learning to act upon the following sentence is what will make a real difference in organizations in terms of adaptive capacity.

Everyone is a leader. – Chris Iveson

What if everyone departed from this assumption? What if all – or at least many more – opinions were heard? What if people had the feeling that they were being truly listened to? What if….

=> Learning need #2: Give the people the baton!