If Leadership Development focused simply on helping people learn to adapt, all of the other sought after attributes would naturally emerge. Adaptability enables leaders to adjust their approaches to match the changing requirements of the business and the diverse needs of the people they lead. Adaptability, the one essential leadership development attribute, needs to be applied in two ways.
Adapt Style To Needs
First, leaders need to adapt their style to the needs of the business. These needs are necessarily in flux; the business has to respond to a constantly changing world! For instance, crisis situations need a different style than for a product launch. Imagine the success rate for a new product strategy run in crisis mode. Not pretty, is it?
Secondly, and more basic, leadership development must focus on “people adaptability”. One leadership style does not fit all people. The leader who responds with the approach that unlocks the strengths of a team improves their contribution. When leaders expect their teams to adapt to them, stress levels soar and productivity drops.
I spend a lot of time in conference rooms and training facilities for many corporations. I find it interesting to read the posters on the walls. Usually one or two have a list of whatever that company believes are the most important characteristics for leaders to have. The lists often include things like:
- Put People First
- Manage Risk
- Lead Change
- Build High Performance Teams
- Establish Vision
- Drive Results
- Inspire Others
- Set High Expectations
Perhaps you recognize some of these from your own lists on your conference room walls. Maybe you even helped draft them. These posters represent artifacts of many hours of debate, discussion and thought by very smart people who try to capture the essence of a leader for their organization.
There is only one attribute that needs development
I’ve seen many Leadership Development models and methods. My conclusion? There is only one attribute that needs development: Adaptability. A leader missing this attribute, is limited to the swim lane that matches their existing strengths. No matter their baseline skills, if leaders improve adaptability, it expands their sphere of influence and enables them to be successful in any situation. Adaptability, this is the crux of Leadership Development.