Adaptive leadership: the answer to shape your path through turbulence

Senior managers expect more strategic leadership and process leadership from middle managers to be able to maintain and enhance performance amidst rapid, frequent and unpredictable change. That is the conclusion of professors Katleen De StobbeleirCarine Peeters and Steve Muylle, together with researcher Matthias Pfisterer based on recent research about leadership behaviours that contribute to organisations’ adaptiveness. The study was conducted within the Centre for Excellence in Leading Adaptive Organisations at Vlerick Business School.

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What are the key behaviours that leaders need to develop in turbulent environments?

Adaptability is an organisation-wide challenge that requires a strong vision, as well as concerted efforts between strategy, people, structure and processes. These elements translate into five key leader behaviours: (1) Visionary Leadership; (2) Strategic Leadership; (3) People Leadership; (4) Process Leadership; and (5) Structural Leadership. 

The study describes the key characteristics of the five adaptive leadership behaviours and reports data on the extent to which middle managers throughout Europe are engaging in these key leadership behaviours. “We focus on middle managers as, according to prominent research, they play a crucial role in guiding the organisation through turbulence and they should facilitate and support transformation processes. Moreover, from research we know that in today’s environment, characterised by change and self-steering work conditions, middle managers need to redefine their role”, Katleen De Stobbeleir clarifies.

We found that senior managers expect more strategic leadership behaviours from their middle managers, specially in terms of seizing opportunities, as their full support is important to bring an adaptation process to a successful conclusion at lower levels of the organisation. The other behaviour for which senior managers expect more from middle managers is process leadership. This requires leaders to not only strive for excellence, but also combine it with a focus on innovation and continuous improvement”, concludes Carine Peeters.

The findings of the study are described in the white paper ‘Adaptive Leadership: shape your path through turbulence’. With the aim of providing practical relevance, the white paper also offers concrete examples from the corporate world to help other organisations and their leaders reflect on how to boost adaptiveness. One of the elements is a checklist that gives leaders recommendations on how to strengthen their adaptive leadership behaviour.

Want to know more on how organisations can build an adaptive advantage and turn threats into opportunities? Join our Centre for Excellence in Leading Adaptive Organisations.

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