Authored by Christiane Montuori on Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 8:10 AM | Add the first comment!
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All of a sudden, there is something new about leadership in the air. Adaptation is coming into its own. And it is not just Brad Pitt’s “Adapt or Die….” line in Moneyball (Trailer 0:09) or Kobe Bryant’s new Nike Ad (Advertisement 0:31).
Maybe it is consequence of undergoing the distasteful quadrennial United States spectacle of a Presidential campaign, the antithesis of leadership, where the candidates seem to be more vying for the title of pandering-in-chief than leader of the free world.
Maybe it is simply so many people trying to survive and thrive in a world that seems so unfamiliar.
Case in point. Read Robert Safian’s cover story in last month’s Fast Company, “This is Generation Flux.” The piece is all about those entrepreneurs and businesspeople, mostly young but always who not only can stand but welcome and thrive in chaos, disruption, and uncertainty.
Organizations and especially people at the top of them are all about predictability, consistency, survival, and reducing uncertainty. Leadership, on the other hand, is an inherently disruptive force. That’s why no one in organizational life is authorized to exercise leadership.
In a time of uncertainty and rapid change, the qualities required to lead are different than what most of us have experienced for most of our lives.
As Safian points out: “Organizations have structures and processes built for an industrial age, where efficiency is paramount but adaptability is terribly difficult.”
Why is adaptation such a challenge?
Here’s a thought, or two.
Think about the process of adaptation in animal and plant species. When a species adapts, it gives up a small portion of its DNA, usually only about 5%. However, giving up the DNA that is hindering adaptation and survival not only gets rid of what is getting in the way, but also makes room for new DNA than can survive in the changing reality.
It’s easier for animals and plants than it is for people and companies. Even though adaptation is mostly a process of conserving the 95% that is still useful, humans and organizations love all of their DNA.
Which finger would you sacrifice to make progress? Which long-treasured function, service, product…or employee would your organization be willing to jettison in order to move forward?
Not surprisingly, we focus on what is being left behind. The behavioral economists are teaching us that we fear loss more than we value gain. Adaptation and the leadership it requires are about the distribution of loss. And in an organization, for some people that 5% is the most important 5% of all the DNA, it’s what keeps them coming to work in the morning, it’s what makes them proud of what they do, it’s a core part of their identity, it may even be them. When the organization adapts to new realities, what is left behind may be real people, not just particular services, products, or norms.
Adaptation is a challenge for individuals as well as for organizations.
In his article in Fast Company, Safian shows that adaptability has enabled members of “Generation Flux” to give new meaning to the idea of career development. How adaptable are you? How ready are you to think of your career as endlessly unfolding?