Future Fit # 10: On becoming an adaptive leader: knowing the difference

TomorrowToday has promised to help you start the journey towards being future fit – to becoming an adaptive leader. Being merely a ‘good leader’ will not suffice when it comes to meeting the challenge of the future. You will need to be a great leader and a ‘great leader’ is someone who understanding and practices adaptive leadership. This is part of a ‘boot camp’ through which we help you begin the journey of becoming future fit; we help you in the process of becoming an adaptive leader. Each ‘session’ is designed around a thought-bullet (Head) and an action point (Hand) – something to think about and something to try out. We have promised to keep the ‘head’ part to under a minute and the practical part (hand)…well, that is up to you.

ladders into the skyFuture Fit # 10: Technical problems vs Adaptive challenges: knowing the difference

It is vital to be able to distinguish between technical problems and adaptive challenges. In a technical problem the problem itself is clear, the solution is known and the locus of work can be authoritative. Technical problems can be very complex but they involve applying a known fix to a specific problem. In the case of an adaptive problem, the problem itself is murky, the solution will require new learning and the locus of work will need to engage all the stakeholders. The most common danger is treating an adaptive problem as a technical problem with the result that we simply dig the hole (we are in) deeper and faster than ever! Adaptive leaders understand the importance of careful diagnosis in identifying the nature of the problem – most of which involve both an adaptive element as well as a technical element. Identifying and understanding this distinction is essential. Adaptive challenges will involve engaging with both the ‘head and heart’ of your people; leading adaptive change necessitates dealing with the values, beliefs and concerns embedded within your organisational culture. Yesterday’s adaptive challenges have become today’s technical solutions – the adaptive behaviour of the past has become today’s routine, today’s pattern, and today’s default setting. These routines, patterns and default settings are inadequate in finding solutions to today’s adaptive challenges.

Together with your team, identify a recent challenge or crisis your organisation has encountered.  Review the entire process in finding a solution and identify the values / beliefs that underpinned this process. Were there any new values and behaviours that emerged during this process? If so, how might these new strengths assist you as you encounter future adaptive challenges’? What might need to be changed in order to support and nurture these new strengths and to ensure that they are able to flourish into the future? Give this conversation some good ‘air time’ and don’t rush it. Very often leaders are not sure how to host on-going conversations around values. You know it is important to do so but such conversations often feel awkward, contrived or stilted. By approaching the ‘values conversation’ though reviewing a real challenge or crisis you and your team have encountered, serves to anchor the discussion in a context that is both understood and ‘real’. It will mean holding the conversation to its intended purpose – identifying values and believes, and avoiding defaulting to the more familiar and comfortable operational aspects of the process involved. Watch out for this danger as you facilitate the conversation.

Index of Adaptive Leader series
Click here to see the full list of the Future Fit ‘sessions’


  1. So you want to become a great leader? | TomorrowToday - November 28, 2013

    […] Future Fit # 10: Knowing the difference […]

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