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Art and Practice of Adaptive Leadership

Leadership can be described and applied in different ways, especially to dilemmas in the workplace. However, often when we are in difficult situations we tend to trust what we know from our experience or behaviours that have provided us with results in the past. In other words, we fall back on what works for us, not what will work for the person we are trying to persuade.


Leadership Styles

Leadership can sometimes be about leading in unknown territory and, due to the pace of change in today’s world, the context in which we lead continues to evolve. Daniel Goleman – considered in some quarters the grandfather of emotional intelligence – speaks about the following leadership styles: Coercive, Authoritative, Affiliative, Democratic, Coaching, Pacesetting.

Each style is more effective than another depending on the circumstances, so it’s crucial for a leader to recognise and utilise the different styles. As leaders, we may have some blind spots into the style of leadership that we have and exhibit behaviours that are unconscious habits. With this is mind, we may not fully utilise the tools in our toolkit that we acquired through our management education and experience.

A great lesson my father told me was that there is always the right tool for the right job. If I ever wanted to be a success in life I should not choose the easy path. If I were to approach a difficult and complex situation with just what was in my immediate tool-kit, I would limit my capacity and more often than not, look foolish with poor consequences.

These are the dangers of habits and, most importantly, not learning from others. Be open to other people’s skillsets and approaches to enhance your toolkit. By approaching a problem by utilising all the available tools around you, rather than play to your own ego, you will ultimately be perceived as a consummate professional. Many leaders now utilise their skillset by adding coaching, communication, team development and conflict resolution skills to their toolkit – in other words, people skills.


Newly Promoted Leaders

When people are promoted to a new leadership position, they regularly have doubts about what is the best way to behave or act in certain situations. The expectations of leaders in the current climate are to be agile and to be adaptive to the context that the leadership situation presents but many people doubt their leadership styles, especially when they have navigated into unchartered territory.

They will often have a habit for using one tool or leadership styles and apply to all situations. Therefore, there is a great degree of personal responsibility and level of emotional intelligence when it comes to practising leadership consciously. Expanding your toolkit and knowing how to apply the techniques learned is essential in leadership. Leadership can be learned and it takes courage to practice leadership.

Courage and Reflection

I often think of this quote by Anaïs Nin when it comes to personal leadership: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”. Being a courageous leader can be achieved, however it does take focus on the discipline of reflective practice.

Reflective practice is a key enabler for leadership to be demonstrated.  We are all now bombarded with communication whether that medium is via computer, smartphone, newspapers, conversations or even the radio on the commute home. Many successful leaders use reflective practice to develop and enhance their leadership presence.

If you were to develop any skill, just like leadership, you would not improve unless you gave due consideration to your approach.  A simple approach to this would be to reflect on what went well each day so you can repeat that success and what you could have done differently to develop a better result. This basic premise increases emotional intelligence for greater successful outcomes in our careers and workplace.

Leadership courage can also be enhanced by peer support. Being able to speak about issues or fears that may be holding us back. The IMI is the ideal environment where these conversations can be facilitated.  Gaining feedback, expertise, know-how and practical knowledge into applying the practice of leadership are key elements of the IMI’s approach to leadership. Are you equipped with the right tools for your leadership challenge?


About the author:

William Corless is an Executive Coach, Certified Mediator and Corporate Trainer who works with C-suite leaders across a wide range of industries both nationally and internationally. William is an Associate Faculty Member and Programme Director in the IMI and a guest lecturer with Notre Dame University.