An important piece of adaptive leadership is the ability to apply different skill-sets to address different types of problems. Just as you (hopefully) wouldn’t use a hammer to fix a leaking pipe, you shouldn’t rely on one style or approach of leadership to meet every challenge. This complex understanding is oftentimes overlooked in leadership literature, where many authors propose more static models of “what a leader looks like.” In contrast, Ester Cameron and Mike Green, in Making Sense of Leadership: Exploring the Five Key Roles Used By Effective Leaders, propose a five quality leadership model that I find very helpful in understanding adaptive approaches. The five qualities they propose are:
- The Edgy Catalyzer: Creates discomfort to promote change This quality is crucial when the status quo is an impediment to change or when an organization has become too complacent with its current structure and processes. By asking uncomfortable questions and pushing employees to examine held beliefs, the edgy catalyzer can help create a sense of unease that leads to a desire for change.
- The Visionary Motivator: Focuses on engagement and buy-in to energize people A great deal of leadership literature focuses on the role of the visionary motivator in leading teams. This quality builds engagement and participation from team members and helps to create a coalition capable of moving change forward. Communication and positivity are essential traits of this quality.
- The Measured Connector: Promotes a sense of purpose and connectivity between people Measured connectors work to align people with stated goals and targets. At times change can move uncomfortably fast, and this quality focuses on keeping team members together and committed. As organizations and care delivery systems become more complex, the importance of aligning not only internal employees but also external stakeholders grows.
- The Tenacious Implementer: Focuses on projects, timelines, deliverables and targets In the article “What Leaders Really Do,” John Kotter creates a useful distinction between management work and leadership work. One common trap that leaders fall into, however—especially those skilled at building visionary coalitions– is failing to stick around and ensure that goals and projects are actually implemented. The quality of tenacious implementer is particularly important when managing the change required to implement regulatory fixes and large-scale IT projects, like EHRs.
- The Thoughtful Architect: Envisions frameworks and system design to support needed change When working on system change or long-term strategic planning, leaders need to understand how to construct structural and process-oriented objectives to bring into existence an engaged vision. Indeed, many thought leaders are exceptional at building a strong coalition around a hopeful vision for the future, but then struggle to actually redesign an organizational structure or business line that brings this vision to life. The thoughtful architect quality is the most introverted of the qualities, and benefits from time to reflect and consider.
Cameron and Green constructed the following chart around some basic questions to highlight the differences between the qualities:
In considering the challenges facing your organization, different qualities of leadership are necessary in differing amounts to enable the organization to deliver the best results. Like many models of leadership, these five qualities are all considered “positive,” in the sense that they are all necessary to accomplish goals, though, as shown above, the amounts of each quality can vary considerably based on the specific aim. Put into the context of aging services, I’ve offered a visual depiction of the relative amounts of each quality useful in responding to the following challenges:
For each quality, too, there is a risk of using too much or too little of it, and it’s for this reason that I find the model most useful. The problems and challenges facing healthcare organizations today are myriad and diverse, and a one-size-fits-all model of leadership risks sacrificing the particular advantages of skills that might be necessary on one project but not on another. By understanding and embracing this complexity, adaptive leaders are much more effective in responding to a wide assortment of challenges and much more successful in leading a diverse range of change initiatives.