On Being an Adaptive Leader

April 1, 2016 By Katherine Tyler Scott

Leadership is not a stand-alone subject; there is always an introductory adjective in front of it. 

Whatever the descriptor preceding leadership, the one element all of them have is that of authority, what I define as the capacity to influence others and change things. Leaders have authority, they use it as advocates and implementers of change, whether the locus of change is a system, a person, a culture or a community. Change emanates from the leader’s exercise of authority. It is the expression of power. A leader’s authority or power derives from a variety of things such as personal attributes, professional education and training, family background, and institutional affiliation and position. 

Adaptive leaders understand and claim authority; and they exercise it in ethical and authentic ways. They build trust through being transparent, by recognizing the needs and interests of others, and by providing spaces in which followers can accomplish the work they must do.  Their genuine respect for the capacities of others elicits the best from followers and motivates them to excel beyond expectations. 

The adaptive leader is self-accepting because they have engaged in their inner work. They claim their gifts and their limitations and are able to appreciate the gifts and limitations that they and others have. Because of this depth of self-understanding and insight they treat others with acceptance and patience. They are very aware of what ethical behavior looks like and what does not; and they set appropriate boundaries and limitations so that those who follow them know that they will be held in trust®, and not allowed to be victimized or demeaned. They know that in the adaptive leader’s sphere of influence they will be able to be real, to grow and to become more of who they are. 

Adaptive leaders exercise the disciplines of the Integrated Work of Leadership©.[1] They are flexible yet unyielding in the face of injustice and bigotry. They are tolerant yet unaccepting of behaviors that are harmful and denigrating of others. They are able to listen to others but will not hesitate to exercise their voice when speech violates the dignity and humanity of others. They have the courage of their convictions-convictions burnished by a lifetime of being open to exploring their own humanity and to learning and sharing lessons that enable them to ethically serve their own interests and to consider the interests of others. They draw others into a depth of understanding that liberates others to be more than they thought they could be. In their vulnerability and acceptance of their imperfection which they claim without guilt or guile they model for others how to accept the unclaimed parts of themselves. 

Adaptive leaders know that the work of being and becoming is never over. They realize that to think differently is a dead end. It productizes a human process and denies the animating spirit that is generous and generative. Those of us who engage in the integrated adaptive and inner work enable the development of adaptive leaders who know that what is offered is foundational- it is soul sharing wisdom and outer nourishment for the inner journey.

[1] The Integrated Work of Leadership© A Journey of Transformation, ©Ki ThoughtBridge, LLC 2009; All Rights Reserved.