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What Is the Best Way To Lead the Person in Front of You?

“…rather than perfecting a “leadership sweet spot,” a leader needs to develop and broaden his or her “leadership sweet range.” The wider this range becomes, the more effective or versatile the leader will be.” – from Finding the Right Balance — and Flexibility — in Your Leadership Style, via HBR

Understanding who you’re working with and what makes them tick is key to leveraging their strengths where the organization needs them. In an HBR article by Jennifer Jordan, Michael Wade, and Tomoko Yokoi titled “Finding the Right Balance — and Flexibility — in Your Leadership Style,” they note that “what’s out-of-date is the idea that a leader should adopt a fixed leadership style that’s agnostic to the specific context in which he or she is operating. A single approach to leadership, whether traditional or emerging, is not going to meet the myriad of challenges that today’s leaders face.”

Think about it: How many folks do you lead? Of all of your direct reports, how many different personalities are there in the bunch? What do you know about each of the characters and what makes them tick, how they work best, and how to get the best out of them? What is the current situation or challenges the company is facing? What are the contexts affecting the business right now? 

Odds are good that you lead as many different personalities as you have individual direct reports. Adaptive leadership is the notion that a fixed leadership style isn’t a quick fix or one-stop-shop for all your leadership needs. Adaptive leadership asks you to be keen enough to be with who is in front of you, in any situation, and be able to connect relationally and with what matters. That requires a different skillset than a fixed leadership style. 

It requires self-awareness, interpersonal awareness, and environmental awareness to navigate well. It’s the difference between holding tight to a methodology or being present and emotionally equipped enough to be with a person and situation as it is and what’s emerging. As a leader, that means leaning into your relational skill set:

How you need to be successfully led is different from what your partner or neighbor needs to be successfully led. Every nervous system is different. Every heart is shaped by its own traveled path and meaning-making mechanisms. Being wed to a rigid style of leadership and applying that one mode to all of the people you manage and lead creates a missed mark. It not only threatens to leave people out and create disconnection, but it fails to raise up each person based on who they are and what they bring to the table. What are the innate skills and how can you bring those forth? What are the parts that person might be lacking, and how can you bolster them? What sets this person up for success in ways that also meet the business needs? 

In this Operator’s Manual, I asked Jerry to wax on about why adaptive leadership is so important for your organization’s leaders, why it matters on an interpersonal level, and how it’s tied to an organization’s success.


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