Adaptive leadership: Less telling and more asking

There are two fundamental approaches to leadership: “telling” employees what they should do, and “asking” employees what they think they should do. I call this Prescriptive leadership (“here is what I want you to do next,”) and Adaptive leadership (“what do you think you should do now? How can I support or help you?”).

I often find that leaders who perceive themselves as overwhelmingly “busy” use the Prescriptive leadership approach. They are prescriptive because employees constantly ask them seemingly simple or obvious questions (questions they believe the employees should already know the answer too).

These leaders perceive that employees ask these simple questions because they truly don’t know the right answer and are concerned at moving forward without having clarity. Prescriptive leadership provides the executive or manager with a sense of worth. If no one asks me anything, I don’t feel like they need me as a leader.

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership however is much different. In Adaptive leadership we ask questions of employees to direct them towards making suggestions and taking actions on solutions to the challenges or opportunities they face.

Adaptive leadership means that as a leader I “adapt” to the suggestions that my employees provide, allowing me to support them in introducing, pursuing, or implementing their ideas. To achieve success in this approach, we must focus on being in the moment, attentive to employee needs, and flexible in allowing employees to understand the desired outcome rather than the path to get there.

If you want more time to focus on strategic issues, put effort into being an Adaptive leader. You will have more time available for your priorities, and employees who feel empowered to make decisions and take action.

© Shawn Casemore 2014. All rights reserved.

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