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CHAPTER SIX



The Adaptive Dimension Of Leadership



Leadership is not a solitary activity. It is
something leaders do in relation to others. For leaders to lead, others must
follow. This simple premise may, at first, seem so self-evident that it can be
merely assumed, with no need for serious thought. Leaders lead and followers
follow. It is, on the surface, no more complex than that.


It is certainly possible to imagine a set of
circumstances in which the simple premise fully explains the process and
relationships: the leader leads and the followers follow. In those
circumstances, the process is rather like a train where the cars of the train
blindly follow the engine down the pre-set track. The relationships are also
simple. Each unit of the train has a pre-defined position and is hard-locked
into that position. There is minimal tolerance for variation or deviation and
no tolerance for individuality, diversity, or creativity.


Within highly controlled, rule-driven
agencies, the executive is in much the same position as the engine of the
train. The agency moves down the pre-defined track and the primary function of
the executive is to keep the agency moving and on-track. This may be thought of
as technical leadership. Such leadership is judged by the extent to which the
agency follows the pre-set rules and procedures and how efficiently the agency
runs in relation to available resources. A perfect executive rating would be
100% compliance with applicable rules combined with achieving this performance
level within the approved budget.


With skilled, technical leadership, an agency
can improve in two ways. First, it can reach higher levels of compliance. Second,
it can become more efficient, using fewer resources to achieve the same or
higher levels of compliance. Do agencies need this type of skilled, technical
leadership? Absolutely. No agency can function effectively and successfully
without it. The leader must lead and the followers must follow.


There is, however, another dimension within
which leadership must function if the agency is to pursue excellence in
addition to compliance and efficiency. This is the adaptive dimension of
leadership. Here, the simple premise of followers following the leader is
insufficient.


Within
the adaptive dimension of leadership, emphasis shifts from technical knowledge
and understanding of the fields of administration and child protection to the
adaptive leadership skills of the individual leader. It is simply assumed that
the leader has or will quickly develop the required technical expertise.


No two people will pursue
the adaptive dimension of leadership in exactly the same way. How you manage it
depends on your personal life experiences, your personality, your individual
interpersonal style, on what you choose to emphasize and what you personally
think is less essential. How you pursue the adaptive dimension also depends on
a myriad of other factors including the physical, political, and interpersonal
environments, as well as the specific people directly and indirectly associated
with the endeavor. In this context, then, leadership success depends on the
specific leader, the leadership environment, and the successful adaptation of
each to the other in relationship to the agency’s mission. In this dimension,
rules and resources represent operating parameters, not evaluation criteria.


Evaluation of the leader
within the adaptive dimension is, thus, two-fold. First, the leader must
operate within the rules/resources parameters. Next, his (her) success is
judged in terms of the extent to which the agency achieves its mission. That
is, in turn, evaluated using whatever criteria the key authorizers choose to
use. As discussed in earlier chapters, if these criteria are not understood and
agreed to in advance, the leader may be judged to be unsuccessful using
criteria that are vague, changing, and circumstantial. For example, one
negative, high profile incident may be used as a single criterion to judge the
leader to be unsuccessful and incompetent.


As a leader who must
succeed within both the technical and adaptive dimensions, your major jeopardy
is within the adaptive dimension. This gives added importance to all elements
of the adaptive environment and to the range of activities within that
environment such as focus group research, strategic planning, strategic
communication, public relations, media relations, and agency self-evaluation.
That not withstanding, the adaptive bottom line is and will continue to be
child safety. What’s more, your leadership will be primarily judged by whether
or not children are kept safe. If the agency follows every rule and operates
under budget, you are still not considered successful unless the authorizers
believe that the children for whom you are responsible are also safe.


In earlier chapters,
attention was given to key factors and processes that contribute to defining
the agency’s role and responsibilities, positioning the agency within the
Children’s Safety Net, understanding and increasing the agency’s public value,
identifying and working with key stakeholders and authorizers, and improving
the agency’s operating capacity. Primarily, focus has been on the external.


Here, focus shifts to the internal. As their
leader, you fail unless you are able to successfully lead your staff, your
team. No matter how well you manage the externals, your success rests on
successfully getting the work of actually protecting children done and done
well. Are you able to achieve reciprocal adaptation between you and your team,
between your team and the children with whom they work, and between the
children and the community that, when all is said and done, must keep them
safe?


As their leader, you say to your team,
“Follow me.” Why are you the one to follow, what makes you the most
appropriate leader? More to the point, do you have the level of adaptive
leadership skills needed to successfully lead a high-performance team that can
and does keep children safe? The following paragraphs may help answer these
questions. The concepts and techniques included here have been gleaned from the
leadership literature and from observing unusually successful, adaptive
leaders. Your task is to consider them in relation to your leadership practice
and to then adapt those that are potentially useful to you in your continuing
quest for adaptive leadership excellence.


·      
Have a
clear vision, a clear sense of mission that others want to follow.


The most successful, adaptive leaders have a
clear vision of their mission, why they do what they do. They know that they
are not experts at everything and do not profess to have all of the answers.
Even with this limitation, though, adaptive leaders are unusually clear about
why they do what they do. Although they cannot guarantee that others will
always reach the goal, they can guarantee that those who choose to follow them
are always headed in the right direction. What’s more, they know what motivates
those who would follow, why they want to go, why they have to get there.


·      
Value
those who make the journey with you.


For those who choose to follow, there are
added benefits. They are valued and what they do is recognized and appreciated.
This is much more than a glad hand and speeches about how everyone is important
and everyone’s contribution matters. They are not just part of the crowd who
gets a thumbs-up now and then. Their leader pro-actively assures them that
they, as individuals, matter and that what they specifically do matters. In
fact, the odds for the team’s success would go crashing downward were they not
on the team.


·      
Commit
yourself to excellence.


The team is not merely
succeeding, it excels. Following the leader guarantees being a valued member of
a child protection team that is committed to doing the right things right, the
first time, on time, every time, one child at a time. Followers surpass their
expectations, set the new standard, are members of the team to which others
look and wonder how they do it.


·      
Value
your customers, those who benefit from your programs and services.


With the level of leadership being discussed
here, team members’ commitment to customer service reaches new heights. They
are more responsive to the needs and interests of their customers than they had
thought possible. Meeting or exceeding their customers’ expectations is
yesterday’s standard. On this team, every transaction with customers is
understood as a new opportunity to provide superior service.


Whether the team’s customers at this moment
are children and families or other members of the Children’s Safety Net, key
authorizers or an interested community group, the team is there for them.
Association with this team is the road to wonderful outcomes for team members
and for each customer, each time, no exceptions, no excuses.


·      
Appreciate
where and how you fit in.


The adaptive leader knows that his primary
role is to help team members succeed. Team members are not responsible for the
leader’s success, but he assuredly is responsible for facilitating theirs. The
adaptive leader’s task is to provide for each team member the best possible
opportunity to get where they are committed to going. He sees their commitment
and supports their being on the team because they are headed where he and the
other members of the team want to go. From his perspective, each team member is
a valued customer, and he is growing a relationship with them that is based on
his consistently providing superior leadership services.


·      
Play by
the rules.


The adaptive leader is not a loose cannon. He
plays by the rules and demands that everyone on his team does likewise. You
have undoubtedly run across the leader who believes that he is above everyone
else. Leaders like this think rules are for other people and that what they
want and do are exceptions to any rules or established procedures. Leadership
excellence is not something they have thought about a lot, not that doing so
would help them much. They are very far away from ever functioning at that high
level. Arrogance and a superior attitude are the order of the day for these
high-and-mighty types.


This insensitive demeanor is certainly
inappropriate in anyone and especially unacceptable in a leadership position.
It is absolutely incompatible with leadership excellence. Adaptive leaders
always play it straight, according to the established and well-understood
rules.


·      
Do not
pass your frustrations and negative feelings along to others.


Be careful. You could consider this point and
easily come to the wrong conclusion. That would be like the farmer who saw the
mouse in the corn crib and assumed that she was planning on supper, when she
was already quite satisfied by the cookies she just ate in his kitchen. What
does the adaptive leader do with his frustrations and negative feelings if he
does not pass them along to others? He proactively shares them only with people
who have a need to know about his perceptions and who can do something about
the underlying problems or issues. He does not share those sorts of things with
team members, others who just happen to be around, or with customers.


·      
Be
positive and energetic whether things are going well or going badly.


This is another point where the wrong
conclusion is at hand. The adaptive leader most assuredly does not see the
plumbing’s backing up as a great opportunity to bond with the plumber, just as
he does not get suddenly energized by bad news. At the same time, he does not
take the fact that the plumbing backed up out on everyone else and does not act
like someone let the air out of his tires whenever the news is not good.


Neither temper tantrums nor pouting are
consistent with the adaptive leader’s approach to problems and disappointments.
He gave that nonsense up by the first grade. His attitude and commitment are
his responsibilities and not reactions to people and events. Team members and
other customers consistently get the leader they have come to know and trust,
at his best, every day, every time, no exceptions, no excuses.


·      
Accurately
understand and appreciate your skills and limitations.


Knowing what he does well and then doing it
well are among the adaptive leader’s strongest assets. Further, he makes a
point of learning what team members do well so that they too spend most of
their time in the strength of their game. He understands that his team cannot
excel unless all team members spend most of their time doing what they do best.


There is another side of this strategy that
is equally important, though. The adaptive leader knows his limitations and
will come to know those of each team member. The team is then developed in part
by filling in the identified limitations with people who are strong in those
areas. Beyond this, he is making a personal point. His limitations keep him
from achieving his mission. He does not have the skills, know-how, and
resources to get there by himself. For him, team members are not just
followers, they are critical to his success.


·      
Be
well-organized.


“Organization” is among the few
absolutely critical characteristics found in all of the most successful,
adaptive leaders. Their special brand of organization goes far beyond the day
to day need to keep track of things and activities. They have extraordinarily
organized minds. They can and do think about things in an unusually organized
way, have at their mental fingertips a huge range of relevant information and
concepts, and routinely demonstrate their special ability to mentally organize
complex problems and issues.


Their level of mental organization sets them
apart from merely competent leaders. They fully understand what needs to be understood.
This by itself is impressive. The truly amazing thing is that they maintain
this level of organization over time, as circumstances change, as what is
important shifts, as information serves its purpose and is replaced with new
information. Among other benefits for the team, the adaptive leader’s
exceptional mental organization lets him adapt to problems before they are
problems, opportunities before they are opportunities, and solutions before
others recognize that there is an issue. By the time something needs done, he
has already done it. His master touch is that he makes it look easy. Unless you
observe closely, you may never know that anything exceptional is happening,
right before your eyes.


·      
Be
timely in all you do.


For the adaptive leader, being timely is
mostly a matter of respect. Of course, he cannot always be on time and do
everything on time every time but it is nonetheless a major priority for him.
If you are expecting him to be somewhere at a specific time, he will be there.
If he commits to doing something, you can take it to the bank that the job will
be done, on time, every time.


This is great for those who deal with him but
there is an important other side. If you are on his team, he expects you to be
on time, do things when you promise, and to get the job done as agreed, every
time. He will cut some slack but not much. In this area, he is as demanding of
those who are associated with him as he is with himself.


·      
Pitch in
and do what needs to be done.


Leaders are doers. This is a simple principle
but the adaptive leader has elevated it to an art form. You can count on him to
do what needs to be done and to give his 110%. Lazy is not a term that anyone
uses when talking about him.


What each team member also needs to know is
that he expects the same from everyone on his team. Put this in context,
however. “Pitching in” does not apply to other people’s work. If it
needs to be done and they are not doing it, you can be certain that it will get
done, even if the leader needs to do it himself. At the same time, he takes
whatever action is necessary to assure that such negligence does not recur.
Doing what needs to be done starts with team members doing what they are
expected to do.


Having said that, there is always this and
that needing done with no one specifically responsible for doing it. On this
team, the leader does pitch in and the same level of responsibility and
initiative is the order of the day for everyone else.


·      
Keep
focused on getting the job done.


Of course, the adaptive leader does not get
into being negative and depressed about things. He accepts personal
responsibility for his attitude and behavior. He knows too that it is easy to
lose focus, to lose track of the goal.


Here is where the adaptive leader excels.
Every event, every situation, every transaction is viewed through the mission’s
lens. Others may let their focus drift but he is always there to bring them
back. Others may be more focused some days than others but he is there to
sharpen their perspectives, to keep them continuously on task.


How do adaptive leaders do this? It always
comes down to their bottom line. They are obsessed with why they do what they
do and with the cost of not doing it well, the first time, on time, every time.
For the adaptive leader, the potential cost of losing focus is just too high.


·      
Have
faith in those who make the journey with you.


This starts with living the values and
beliefs that are the trademarks of leaders who have achieved adaptive
leadership excellence. Specifically, it starts with not reflexively blaming or
accusing someone whenever there is a problem. That initial level of faith is
followed by believing that people are normally honest and trustworthy. If you
start by assuming that a problem’s coming up does not necessarily mean that someone
screwed up, you have opened your mind to the alternative possibilities.
Assuming, then, that team members are honest and trustworthy allows the
adaptive leader to comfortably collaborate with them. Together, in the spirit
of trust and good faith, they can best understand the problem and how to reduce
the likelihood of its recurring.


The adaptive leader knows that problems are
usually not caused by anyone’s inadequacy or failure. They are caused by the
unexpected, by the improbable, or by things that could not be predicted or
controlled. To start with the people instead of the problem runs a high chance
of never solving the problem. It also runs an even higher risk of breaking
trust with people, with the team. If the problem turns out to be with one or more
of the people, he has strategies for handling that. Even so, he has faith in
the team members and invariably initiates problem solving from that good faith
perspective.


·      
Take
even the most minor complaint seriously.


Taking even minor complaints seriously is
based on the fact that people seldom complain unless there is a real issue. The
adaptive leader knows, as well, that people who are complaining usually want to
be heard at least as much as they want something specific done, and sometimes
more. Put these two truths together and you see the strategy:


There likely is a real
issue.


+    People want to be heard.


=    Always take time to seriously listen.


Having listened, he then takes action or not,
depending on what he hears. The point is that the person gets the respect they
deserve. What’s more, he does not miss the opportunity to respond to something
that legitimately needs his attention.


·      
Be open
to ideas and suggestions from anyone.


You know that the adaptive leader is mentally
well-organized and that he has a vast supply of ideas and information at his
mental fingertips. Well, now just where do you think all that wisdom came from?
Did the adaptive leader figure it all out by himself? Not on his best day.


He is a mental sponge and he goes around
soaking up ideas and suggestions everywhere, from everyone. He says, “I
can’t use the idea I didn’t hear or follow the suggestion I didn’t listen
to.”


His special strategy here goes beyond being
open and listening, though. His secret is that he learns something from every
idea, every suggestion, whomever its source. He listens and then he learns.
That winning combination (listen and learn) is the adaptive leader’s real
success secret.


·      
Understand
problems and issues from other people’s points of view.


This technique goes nicely with “listen
and learn.” Have you ever told someone about how a problem or issue looks
from your point of view only to be told, “I don’t see it that way. Let me
tell you what the real issues are here…”?


What is the not so subtle message to you?
“You’ve got this all wrong. It’s not that way at all. You are either
stupid or out of touch with the real world.”


You will never get that kind of demeaning
approach from the skilled, adaptive leader. First, such disrespect is just not
his style. More importantly, he knows that by using that approach, he loses.
Just as he gets most of his ideas from others, he also gets most of his
insights and new perspectives from other people. How does he do that? He
listens and learns. He takes time to understand your perspective, to get your
read on things. When he walks away, he has more of what he needs to lead: he
has what he knows and now has part of what you know too. It is only a matter of
time until he becomes brilliant, one conversation at a time.


·      
Make
sure a job can be done before holding anyone responsible for it.


Who but an idiot would hold someone
responsible for a job that cannot be done? Alas, if idiots could fly, many
so-called leaders would have their own airports. Have you ever seen a project
fail and someone reflexively gets reprimanded or fired? Never mind that the
project’s history of success was limited to visions in someone’s mind. It
happens on a grand scale and in little situations but expecting the impossible
and holding someone accountable happens often and repeatedly.


It will not happen with you and the adaptive
leader, though. You will be expected to try, to give it your best. You will not
be held responsible for its not working out, though, unless he can objectively
confirm that it was doable.


·      
Be clear
with people about what you expect.


This starts with being clear about whether
you actually expect the job to be done. You may only expect the person to give
it a try, work on it if there is time, or to do as much as interest and
resources allow. Alternatively, you may expect the job to be done and done on
time.


·      
Do you
expect the person to work alone or to get help?


·      
Do you
expect perfection or will just getting it done suffice today?


The adaptive leader knows that being clear
about expectations is a touchstone of great leadership. If you are on his team,
you will always be clear about what he expects. You will never have to wonder
or have doubts about that.


·      
Take
time to be sure that people understand how their jobs fit in with other jobs
and activities.


The adaptive leader does not go overboard
here but he does obsessively attend to one element of fitting in. As a member
of the team, you will always completely understand how what you do fits into
the plan for the team to achieve its mission. You will know why you do what you
do.


The adaptive leader will also be sure that
you see how your job fits with other jobs that affect or are affected by yours.
Although you may not see every necessary connection, knowing why your job is
important is essential to your success and to the success of the team. People
want their efforts to make a positive difference. The adaptive leader will make
sure that you do not doubt the value of your contribution.


·      
Give
people clear reasons and explanations whenever they ask for them.


“Why?” is a question for which
people want an answer that makes sense to them. If they do not get it, they
will fill in their own answers. Having filled in the blank, they now have a
do-it-yourself explanation for everything. People make sense of their environments,
whether it has any relationship to reality or not. What is the result? There
are many and usually conflicting explanations for anything that happens and
nearly as many for things that do not happen and are not going to happen.
Therein lies the source of the old rumor mill.


Even the most skilled leader cannot stop the
rumor mill, as much as he would like to put it out of business. Gossip is a
pastime to which people are addicted or at least seriously hooked. What he can
do is be sure that anyone who is responsible enough to actually ask gets the
straight scoop. That does not stop the rumor mill but it does slow it down a
little and can redirect it now and then. More importantly, if you bring your
questions to him, you will get the honesty and respect you deserve. Not to give
you reasons and explanations when you ask for them would be unacceptable, from
his perspective.


·      
Delegate
often and well.


Delegation is, for the adaptive leader, a
critical key to his success. He knows that leadership superstars have elevated
effective delegation to an art form. In fact, success with delegation is the
single most important factor separating leaders who achieve their
mission-specific goals from those who do not.


Try this. Design a one-legged stool. One end
of the leg must be attached to the stool and the other end can touch the ground
at one single point but cannot be in the ground or supported by anything else.
The stool must be functional, serving the usual purpose of being a place for a
person to rest those weary bones.


It is actually fairly easy. Get a board and
attach the leg to it. Set the stool up and sit on it. So long as you are
sitting on it, your stool works fine. The problem is that, if you get up, your
stool falls over. You have to do the work of the , yourself which works fine if
you have nothing else to do and are willing to sit on the stool forever. Now if
you are not quite up to eternity on the stool, you will need to make other
arrangements: you have to delegate.


Since the adaptive leader is not about to
spend his life sitting on the stool, he has three rules for getting others on
the team to pitch in. First, he appropriately delegates tasks and duties. He
does not, however, pass on his responsibilities. He is still responsible for
the team’s success but others on the team can and should help carry the load.
This cannot be a “whomever happens to be around” process. The
adaptive leader is careful to only delegate to people who have the skills and
know-how to get the job done; they have to be up to it.


Second, the adaptive leader does not delegate
a job to someone and then try to manage it himself or second-guess the person
who is assigned the job. His reasons here are important. He is not going to sit
on the stool and is not about to hover around just to be sure the job gets done
or that it is not screwed up. If he needs to do that, he might as well sit on
the stool himself. More importantly, second guessing and a hands-on approach
with delegated tasks would mean that he did not have much confidence in the
person given the assignment. If that is where it is, the leader screwed up. He
delegated inappropriately: he picked the wrong person to hold up the stool.


Third, the adaptive leader always delegates
enough authority so the person can get the job done. This does not mean that he
gives anyone an unlimited, free rein. What each person does must fit with
everyone else’s activities. The team needs to work together as a team. At the
same time, each team member needs the freedom and authority to do what needs to
be done.


The adaptive leader does not get into
“Mother, may I?” It certainly is not a “Check with me at every
step along the way for authorization,” approach for his team. Those on the
team are competent, make good choices and decisions, and can be trusted to do
the right things right. If this is not true, he needs to reexamine who is on
his team and think about who may need to be replaced. Nonetheless, not to give
people the authority they need to get the job done would mean that he does not
quite trust, does not really believe. It would also mean that he is still
holding up the stool instead of getting on with getting on.


·      
Get the
resources needed to get the job done.


A leader’s job is to facilitate the team’s
success. Being sure that available resources are sufficient for success is, in
turn, the leader’s responsibility. There may be others on the team who have
tasks and assignments related to resource development; but if the resources are
not there when they are needed, the leader has not gotten the job done.


If the train runs on coal, the leader better
have continuous access to the coal mine. If success depends on new ideas, the
leader will be well-served by cultivating a close relationship with a guru. If
success depends on creativity, exceptional talents, and specialized skills, the
leader must commit to recruiting and retaining only the brightest and best
people for the team. The adaptive leader knows that not having enough of the
right resources when they are needed is the surest route to failure and fail he
will not.


·      
Be
skilled at using informal strategies to get things done.


This certainly is likely consistent with your
experience. There are formal policies, procedures, and ways things are to be
done. It is also true that they sometimes do not work and situations come up
where there is no formalized approach that will get from here to there in the
time available to get there. Now and then, though, people take this to mean
that they can ignore the rules, not pay attention to the formal processes. This
definitely is not the adaptive leader’s perspective. The informal approach
supplements formal procedures and is not a substitute for them.


People also sometimes see the informal
approach as a convenient way to bypass the chain of command, to shortcut processes
they think take too long, to shop around for the decision they want, or to
avoid jobs that they do not like. That is not the point either. For the
adaptive leader, the informal approach is simply one more strategy that is
available to him within the formal context. He wants his team to use informal
strategies, to talk with each other, to informally innovate when they need to,
to avoid being too rigid about the rules when something unusual comes up that
does not quite fit into the established procedures. They are responsible people
who can and are expected to use their good judgment and common sense. He
liberally uses informal strategies himself but you can have too much of a good
thing.


Being skilled at using informal strategies
includes knowing when to use them and when formal is better. If informal
strategies are used too much or inappropriately, things become disorganized,
efficiency and quality suffer. If they are used too little, the team becomes
rigid and inflexible, creativity and innovation disappear, and the team loses
its cutting edge. On the adaptive leader’s team, the real skill in using
informal strategies is in finding and maintaining the balance.


·      
Understand
and tap the knowledge, skills, and resources of everyone.


You are not surprised? That old cat is
already out of the bag? The adaptive leader’s secret is no secret anymore? He
is a sponge who goes around soaking up whatever serves his team’s purposes.
Everyone’s knowledge, skills, and resources fit right in with his absorption
strategy.


Here is what you may not know. He is also a
master at finding the specific know-how, particular skill, or perfect resource
for the immediate purpose, whatever the need happens to be. He knows someone
who either has or can get exactly what the doctor calls for, so to speak. When
the success puzzle requires a new or unusual piece, the adaptive leader reaches
out, pulls it in, and slips it into place. What’s more, it is miraculously an
exact fit, not just what the doctor ordered. It is a cure for whatever the condition
happened to be.


How does he do it? He sees everyone he meets
as a potential resource for his team. He then talks with them about what they
do, their knowledge, their skills, their resources. Of course, they are
normally pleased with his interest and happy to share with him. What they do
not know is that he is listening and filing away anything that may one day be a
piece for his success puzzle. He then remembers the potentially useful details
he has learned, ready to tap them when the need arises.


·      
Distribute
work and responsibilities efficiently and fairly.


Distributing assignments efficiently is a
science in its own right and the adaptive leader does it well. Being sure that
the right people are assigned to the right tasks is where it starts. It goes on
to include being sure things are done in the right order, at the right time.
The science of efficiency expands out to include avoiding bottlenecks,
eliminating any loss of resources and materials, preventing errors and having
to do things over again, and getting continuous feedback from customers.
Achieving and maintaining efficiency is quite complex.


For adaptive leaders, though, there is an
underlying dimension that they emphasize at least as much as maximizing the
efficient conversion of resources into programs and services that are fully
responsive to the needs and interests of customers. The skilled, adaptive
leader does not take advantage of anyone. There are obvious and not so obvious
ways people are taken advantage of and he avoids them all.


The most blatant abuse happens when a good
team member has more and more work piled on top of work that was piled on
yesterday. Another version of the same kind of abuse happens when work is given
to someone just because the leader is not going to get any hassle or flack.
Some people have positive attitudes and just do not say, “No,” when
asked to do something. They are simply too nice for their own good. He
understands that even his best workhorse can be run too fast or pushed too
hard. The best of them needs a good measure of oats and some time in the barn
now and then.


Two other areas of unfairness and abuse are
also worth noting. First, tolerating anyone’s not doing what is expected or
doing less than is expected is unfair to others on the team. Letting shirkers
get away with it does nothing but shift the burden unfairly onto others.
Second, assuming that everyone is equally efficient is wrong. This is
particularly unfair to those who are unusually efficient. The exceptional few
can routinely do a two-hour job in an hour and a half. Do you then expect them
to do more work in the extra half hour? The adaptive leader does not think so.
He will discuss options with them; but the choice is theirs. He certainly would
not increase the load just because someone is especially efficient and
hard-working.


There is a further but hidden area of
unfairness that even the most skilled and sensitive leader can overlook if he
is not very attentive. People should not be expected to do things they do not
know how to do or do not know how to do well. The solution here is fairly
simple. Identify individuals who do know how to do what is expected and add
them to the team. For the adaptive leader, there is an even better solution.
Train people who are already on the team to do the job, to do it well. They are
already on board, already committed to the mission, already vested in the
team’s success. He knows that it is always better to invest in those who are
already on your team than to take a chance on newcomers. The Johnny-come-lately
likely will do fine but the adaptive leader is committed to sticking with the
horses that got him there, whenever he can.


·      
Defer to
others when they are more knowledgeable, skilled, or competent.


None but a certifiable power junky would go
with his own ideas and skills when someone more competent is readily available.
Nonetheless, power junkies are more prevalent than you might think. You can
find them mostly in the middle ranks but rarely at the top. Leaders do not get
there by ignoring or overlooking expertise in others and especially not in
people whose knowledge, skills, and resources can increase their chances for
success. Skilled leaders take full advantage of whatever may give them the
winning edge.


The adaptive leader’s reason for deferring to
the expertise of others goes a little farther, though. He truly values
differing styles and opinions. Each person on the team has know-how, skills,
and resources that are unlike those of anyone else. They all have their special
areas of expertise. They also have their individual approaches, ways of
thinking, and perspectives. This gives fullness and flavor to the team. Not to
take advantage of this richness would be like ignoring the matador when he
suggests that you let him handle the bull this time.


·      
Deal
with problems before they become crises.


You already know that the adaptive leader has
an organized mind and an uncanny ability to see problems before they are
problems, opportunities before anyone else knows that an opportunity is at
hand. There is a value-added benefit of having a skilled, adaptive leader that
you may not know about. He deals with problems and issues as soon as he becomes
aware of them. It is part of his “do today’s business today” approach
to everything. It also makes it easier for him to have an organized mind. The
less there is to keep track of, the easier it is to keep it organized.


You know about how hectic things are the day
after vacation. Stuff has not gotten done and work is backed up. Did you know
that there are people whose days are like that all the time? Sure, it may be
due to having impossible jobs where they are always behind. That is a different
matter that they need to deal with. More typically, though, the problem is
caused by not doing today’s business today, even though the opportunity is
there to do it. They do the routine things but set the more difficult or
unpleasant tasks aside. They want to think about it, will get back to it later,
or do not feel like they have enough information.


The adaptive leader has learned that most all
of these tasks are five-minutes-or-less activities and require a decision or
response to a problem or issue. It is not that he does not have the time. He is
avoiding action. His rule here is simple.


·      
First,
delegate. Pass the problem or issue along to the person who has the needed
information and the responsibility for the outcome. “Please take care of
this. Let me know by next Tuesday how you handled it.”


·      
Second,
if you cannot delegate, the rule is handle it now. Make the best decision you
can, based on what you know right now. Trust your experience, your instincts,
your well-tested judgment.


·      
Third,
if you cannot delegate and are not prepared to act, the rule is to trash it. A
lot of unnecessary work is appropriately avoided by this simple step.


Less than 5% of the non-routine tasks outlive
the previous three rules. This is, at least, much more manageable. The adaptive
leader’s rule for this 5% is:


If you cannot finish it today, assign someone
to work on it with you. That person is responsible for developing a completion
schedule, getting the needed information together, and bringing a
recommendation to you.


When the recommendation comes back, start
with the first rule and run the steps again. The most likely outcome is that
you accept the recommendation and delegate the task to the person who has been
working on the problem or issue. However you handle it, today’s business has
been done today.


·      
Do not
react to people or problems impulsively.


As the adaptive leader follows his rules for
being sure that he does today’s business today, his approach is not impulsive.
First, he resists the temptation to just do something, do anything to make the
person or problem go away.


·      
“What
exactly would you like for me to do?”


·      
“How
do you see this working out?”


·      
“What
else have you tried before bringing this to me?”


Questions like these get
more information. Just as importantly, they slow things down. While the
adaptive leader is listening, he mentally sorts through his options. By the
time he has considered two or three, the impulse to just do something has
passed and his response is at least more thoughtful than merely acting on the
first thing that came to mind.


Most leaders are quick to act, quick to go
with their first reactions, quick to follow their instincts. This characteristic
is one of the personality elements that separates the best leaders from the
mediocre. The down-side of this is that they are also extraordinarily reactive.
Their mental and perceptual quickness can cause them to jump to wrong
conclusions or act too quickly. The patience required to listen and learn can
easily allude them.


Knowing this, the adaptive leader is slow to
confront people and even slower to get into arguments, understanding that these
are normally impulsive events. He has no problem expressing his point of view
and no reluctance to confront people when necessary. However, doing either
without thought and clear reasons is risky and usually counterproductive.


An important benefit of this more considered
approach is that he has an opportunity to exactly fit his reactions to the
situation or circumstance. People tend to think that the issue is
over-reacting. This leadership pitfall is well-known. The adaptive leader’s
experience tells him, though, that under-reacting is often a more significant
problem. If his reaction is too intense, he can usually go back, apologize, and
correct his reaction. If it is not intense enough, he may never know. He thinks
he made his point but others do not think it was particularly important or that
he was all that serious. Getting the balance right is a continuing challenge
for every leader.


Being assertive but tactful is where the
balance is to be found. He needs to be assertive enough to avoid any
misunderstanding while being tactful enough to avoid emotionally pushing people
away. Here is his secret. The more important and strongly held his point, the
more quietly and the more slowly he makes it. Whispering would be going too
far, even though people are more likely to hear and decide it is important if
you whisper. The skilled, adaptive leader runs no chance that he will not be
heard and understood. At the same time, he gives these little voice clues that
it is time to listen and learn.


Of course, he does not interrupt. He waits
his turn to talk, especially if he wants to make an important point. He has
another little strategy, though. He waits until the conversation has moved on
to another topic. He then says, “Let me take us back for a minute. We were
talking about X. Let me make this point clearly. (He then succinctly makes the
point that he had not made before.) Thanks for letting me interrupt. We were
talking about….” His point will now neither be missed nor forgotten.


·      
Be hard
on problems and soft on people.


·      
People
deserve consideration; problems do not.


·      
The
adaptive leader wants good people to stay, annoying problems to go away.


·      
Problems
need solutions; people need support.


·      
People
are not the problem, problems are the problem.


You are driving along a country road and run
out of gas. Are you the problem or is your being out of gas the problem? Should
you choose to focus your frustration on yourself and not deal with the problem,
you could easily miss the point.


Your being out of gas is not the problem
either. Your immediate problem is that you cannot go with your plan to get
where you were going by driving your car. Suppose that, just as you ran out of
gas, your trusted brother and his friend stopped and offered to give you a
ride.


There, your problem is solved; but not quite.
You cannot leave your car on a country road. Oh well, you will just sit there
and pound on yourself. You are not off the hook. You did run out of gas.


“I don’t think so,” you say. You
will see if they can either siphon some gas from their car or go get some and
bring it back to you. You will be at least soft enough on your self and hard
enough on the problem to take advantage of what now seems like an obvious
solution.


Be honest now. You did assume that you had
neglected to get gas, did you not? Had you paid more attention, you would have avoided
the problem all together.


Stop and think about this for a minute. Are
there other reasons why a car might run out of gas? Is your screwing up the
only reasonable explanation? Maybe you did forget; but if that is your only
consideration, you could easily miss other, more serious reasons.


You likely can now think of a couple of
additional reasons why you might have run out of gas that have nothing to do
with your neglect, but why did you need to be coached? More importantly, do you
suppose that you would have been less hard on someone else, slower to jump to
conclusions, had that person been driving the car instead of you? It is
unlikely. That is the point. There are other and many times more likely
explanations for problems than, “People cause problems.” As the
adaptive leader might say, “Problems cause problems. People are problem
solvers. Be soft on people if you really want your problems solved.”


·      
Be
flexible and willing to compromise.


Have you ever played American football? If
so, you know that on fourth down with 4 yards to go, it does not cut it to be
flexible and compromise even if the other team does agree to give you three
yards on a friendly basis, with no conflict or confrontation. It will not even
help if they agree that the next time you have the ball, you will only need
nine yards for your initial first down. If that is not good enough, they are
open to being even more flexible and are ready to compromise. If you will just
give them the ball now, you can have a free point added to your score.


You acknowledge the utility of flexibility
and compromise. You share, take turns, and are skilled at give-and-take. You do
not expect to get your way every time, you are a team player; but you and your
team are going to pass on the offers and go for it. If you get the four yards,
that is great. If not, that is the way the game goes now and then. Either way,
you will play, no flexibility, no compromise.


What is the real message here, then? It is
wisdom in two parts. “Do not deal with people in win/lose terms, if it can
be avoided.”


Now, there is a message worth taking to
heart. It is also a talent that skilled, adaptive leaders have carefully
perfected. They know how to manage, how to be flexible, when to compromise,
when to avoid getting into win/lose transactions. They have also developed the
skills needed to avoid the rock’s colliding with the hard place.


Adaptive leaders know equally well when it is
time to shift to part two. They know when to move the hard place directly into
the path of the rock. It would be convenient to tell you that there is a
well-tested guide to direct you to have the battle here but not there, to hang
tough over this but not over that. Sorry, nothing so simple this time.


Each leader has to carefully pick and choose,
being very cautious and thoughtful about the choices. Nonetheless, he must make
the stand where and when it has to be made. Do so, fully understanding the
consequences and being prepared to accept them, win or lose. Leaders have to do
what leaders have to do, including accepting the consequences of their actions,
no exceptions, no excuses.


·      
Remember
and own what you say, agree to, and do.


People think you said what they think you
said, agreed to what they think you agreed to, and did what they think you did.
Therein lies the adaptive leader’s opportunity. On the one hand, he can deny
everything. “I never said that.” “I certainly did not agree to
that.” “I did not do it.” As option one, this has the advantage
of simplicity.


On the other hand, he can capitulate.
“Although I do not remember saying that, you are undoubtedly right.”
“If you think I agreed to it, then we have a deal.” “If you say
I did it, then I did it.” As option two, this has the advantage of
avoiding conflict.


Although simplicity has a lot going for it,
option one has the leader obstinately contradicting whomever he is talking with
at the time. “You are wrong and I am right.” That is possibly not his
best choice, although he may very well be right. Even if he is, people will
come to distrust him and he soon loses whatever credibility he may have.


Option two is no better. He is just going
along to be going along. He does avoid conflict, at least for the moment but he
does so totally at his expense. Even worse, people will quickly come to believe
that he does not know what he said, agreed to, or did. It is but a small step
to their not believing him when he says, agrees to, or does anything. His
effort to avoid conflict destroys any credibility he may have.


Using options one or two only now and then is
not much better. It takes longer to lose credibility, but lose it you do. In
some ways, occasional use of one or the other option is more problematic than
consistent use of either. Being unpredictable in the credibility department is
harder for people to deal with than dealing with the leader who is either
bull-headed or spineless.


If he said it, agreed to it, or did it, the
adaptive leader of course acknowledges the fact. If he believes he did not,
then he says, “That surprises me. I must be blocking on that one. Will you
help me get focus? If you will, take me back to when you are talking about. You
were there so help me into the picture.”


More often than you may think, the response
is, “Well, I wasn’t there but so-and-so told me….” Other times, you
are reminded that the person really is right. Once in a while, you are able to
see why your words or actions were interpreted differently than you intended.
Whatever the outcome, you have an opportunity to reprocess and reinterpret the
event. The outcome is not necessarily better but you normally keep your
credibility and your commitment to Leadership Excellence is intact.


·      
Work
with people instead of merely relying on your power and control.


You know that relying on power and control
stifles innovation, creativity, and cooperation. Further, it increases tension
and apprehension while causing people to become anxious and fearful. Even if
they are not the focus of the power and control, the effect is about the same.
Just being in a power-oriented environment is unsettling and stressful. The
adaptive leader recognizes these unacceptable outcomes but his favoring working
with people rests more specifically on the less obvious down-side of routinely
using power and control.


Regularly using power and control is
ineffective and counterproductive. It does not work. More specifically:


·      
The more
skilled the employee, the less effective it is.


·      
The more
important the person’s participation is to the team, the more using power and
control jeopardizes the team’s success.


·      
The more
choices the person has, the less acceptance there is of such nonsense.


Unnecessary use of power and control leads to
your best people leaving. What’s more, if they cannot leave, they gradually
shut down on you. You do not consistently get the best they have to offer.


Give this a minute’s thought. The team’s
brightest and best either leave or perform below their best. Over time, what is
the result? You have only those people who are less skilled and competent along
with others who are not at their best. Now, who is left on your team and how
does that bode for team success?


The adaptive leader works with people because
it is the right thing to do. He only uses power and control when he has no
other viable options, since he wants to maximize innovation, creativity, and cooperation.
Most critical to his success, though, he passes along as much power and control
as people on the team can productively and constructively manage. Working with
people who are so empowered keeps good people on the team and extends to them
the opportunity to be great. Given that potential for excellence, the skilled,
adaptive leader never loses focus on this simple point:


·      
Power
and people don’t mix.


·      
Take
everyone into consideration when making decisions.


People need and deserve consideration. They want
to be involved and to have their interests and points of view considered
whenever decisions are made. They expect to matter and to make a difference as
individuals.


There is another level of truth here. On the
one side, not taking everyone into consideration runs the chance of alienating
those who are left out or ignored. If that happens, they become less invested
in the team and less committed to its success. Odds for achieving the mission
go down and leadership is weakened. It is a similar outcome to that seen when
power and control are used excessively and inappropriately. Do-it-yourself
leadership does not work, unless you really do intend to do everything
yourself.


On the flip side, the decision itself is
suspect. There are people who could have and should have been consulted. The
people who have to deal with the effects of the decision are taken by surprise
and may not be prepared to handle the consequences of the decision. The rumor
mill gets a new source of fuel, and confusion within the team increases.
Unintended problems develop and the original decision often has to be modified
to accommodate to the consequences of not taking everyone into consideration.
With all this, taking everyone into consideration is not only the sensitive
thing to do, it is an essential strategy for leaders who value making the right
decision, the first time, on time, every time.


Related to this is trying to understand the
what and why of problems before taking action. This cannot be done without
taking everyone into consideration. Simply put, that is the only way to be sure
that you first understand the problem. Even for the most experienced leader, it
is ordinarily impossible to handle a problem until he actually knows what the
problem is.


Recall the stool with only one leg? It is a
good example of the what and why of problems. That stool belonged to a team
that had a take-charge leader. He knew what the problem was and how to fix it.
He simply threw the piece of junk into the trash and the problem was solved.


He first observed and analyzed: that is a
piece of junk. Next, he defined the problem: junk should not be left laying
around. Finally, he problem solved: into the trash it went.


Did this “I know what’s best for
everyone,” approach solve the problem? Yes, it did. Did it cause other
problems? It likely did not. Can you think of reasons why the approach might
not have been appropriate? You probably can.


The issue with the approach is not so much
whether it works as that sometimes it does not. When it does work, which is most
of the time, it goes unnoticed. When it does not work, people are upset, other
problems develop, and a round of second guessing begins. If the leader is
committed to doing the right things right, the first time, on time, every time,
he will need to reconsider the approach.


Two points are important. First, problems
seldom need an immediate, right-now solution. When they do, then action must be
taken but there is normally time to at least ask a question or two. “Is
there some reason why that one-legged stool is just laying there? Does anyone
have plans for using it? Is throwing it away going to cause anyone a
problem?”


Second, and here is the most serious issue,
the “I’ll fix it myself without consulting with anyone” approach is
habituating. The symptoms include an irritating increase in arrogance, less
value being placed on other people and their contributions, increasing
insensitivity to the needs and interests of others, and less focus on the team
and its mission. Over time, the symptoms also include an increase in bad
decisions and a decrease in problems really getting solved. Instead of things
getting better, they actually get worse and the misguided leader does not have
a clue why. He believes that it is because people are causing problems instead
of taking care of business.


You may hear him say, “I spend all of my
time putting out fires. It is no wonder we don’t make much progress. If
everyone would just do what they are supposed to do, I could get things on
track.” Of course, he never considers the possibility that his attitude
and problem-solving approach are, themselves, the underlying source of all
those fires.


·      
Make the
tough or unpopular decision when necessary.


One of the adaptive leader’s most challenging
leadership dilemmas comes with this strategy. He takes everyone’s ideas and
points of view into consideration, gets input from those who are familiar with
the problem or issue, and consults with people who may have special interest in
the outcome or an important perspective. A high level of consensus develops
from these activities and it is clear what most people think he should do.


He then struggles with the decision,
processes it through the filter of his experience and judgment, and makes the
one decision that no one expected or can support. Even more exasperating for
others is his inability to give them an explanation for his decision that they
can understand or accept. They think that he is wrong, believe that he has made
things worse, and feel betrayed. They are unhappy and now are less trusting of
anything he says or does. “He is just going to do whatever he wants to do.
He doesn’t care what we think or feel. When he talks with us, he is just going
through the motions. He is out of control and it does not matter what we say or
do. There is no point in talking with him about anything. He won’t listen to
anyone.”


Does he thus take the easy alternative and
simply accept the advice and guidance others have provided, go with their
preferred decision? If he does, few will second guess or find fault however
things turn out. Additionally, he avoids the unpleasant need to deal with the
“I told you so,” chorus if the consequences of his decision are not
what he expects.


If he goes with his decision and things work
out well, he may or may not get the credit. If things are worse, he gets the
blame, whether his decision had anything to do with it or not. Had he done what
they advised, things would be fine now. It is a “damned if you do and
damned if you don’t” dilemma, for sure.


This dilemma is at the heart of adaptive
leadership. When should a leader defer to the collective wisdom of others and
when should he go with his personal best judgment, given what he knows at the
time? His solution is fairly simple, as it turns out. He always goes with the
collective wisdom of others unless he believes very strongly that they are
wrong. It is not enough to believe that he is right. He has to also believe
that they are wrong. Having made that decision, he may still go with the
collective wisdom if he believes that the consequences will not be excessively
problematic or can be reversed, if necessary. They might be right; and even if
they are not, their empowerment entitles them to their turn at bat, so to
speak.


On those few occasions when he believes he is
right and others are wrong and that the consequences of going with their
recommendations would be very negative and not reversible, the leader does what
he has to do. He has only one responsible choice. He can handle people’s being
unhappy or upset with him at times. He can not accept his failing to do what he
knows needs to be done. Even more to the point, he could not accept his failing
to lead.


·      
A leader
leads; and if he caves-in when the heat gets turned up, it is time for him to
pass the torch along to a more legitimate leader. “If you can’t stand the
heat, get out of the kitchen.” (Thank you Mr. President.)


·      
Attend
to the details without getting bogged down in them.


“The devil is in the details.” That
is the only point here. What can be missed is the fact that this devil is
particularly devilish. Every situation, set of circumstances, problem, or issue
has its broad-brush look and feel. From that perspective, it takes on its
special definition. Given that definition, one leader draws on his insight and
experience and takes appropriate action. He does not need the details to know
what to do. In fact, he is so oriented to managing people and processes at this
level that he quickly becomes impatient with those who insist on providing far
more detail than he wants or needs.


Other leaders take a different approach. They
want and need every detail, no matter how trivial. They believe that the more
information they have, the better will be their choices and decisions. These
leaders see themselves as thoughtful and thorough. Leaders whose style is not
as detail-oriented are, they think, impulsive and inclined to shoot from the
hip.


Here is the underlying problem. No matter how
much detailed information leaders have, there is most always more information
that could be made available, if they are patient enough. There are also things
they cannot know and details that will not be forthcoming no matter how patient
they are. It is normally possible to know more and impossible to know
everything.


Leaders always act based on partial information.
The challenge is knowing when to act and when to wait on more detail. Were that
not enough, information tends to go down in proportion to the potential
unwanted consequences of the decision or choice. The more potential there is
for bad outcomes, the less well-informed the leader is likely to be. In these
situations, some leaders tend to act too quickly and others tend to get bogged
down in the details and postpone action indefinitely.


If
you are apt to act too quickly, slow down and assimilate more detail. If
instead, you are apt to obsess over the details, take a deep breath and act.
Either way, you may want to use a special technique of adaptive leadership. Set
a specific, future time to decide. This forces you to consider more detail and
to get more input. It also forces a closure to input and an end point for
attending to detail. When the time comes to decide, you decide. When the bell
rings, jump on that bull and hope you can hang on.


·      
Give
people clear, frequent, and accurate feedback.


This unusually complex strategy starts with
being as quick to tell people what they have done right as you are to tell them
what they have done wrong. That does not sound difficult, does it? What if the
order is reversed, though? Be as quick to tell people what they have done wrong
as you are to tell them what they have done right. Now it sounds odd. It seems
like equal attention needs to be given to both “what’s right” and
“what’s wrong.” That is exactly the point.


It is not necessary to go into a lot of
detail about leaders who only relate to team members in terms of problems and
things they have done wrong. They also point fingers and know that every
problem is someone else’s fault. Their major activity is finding someone,
anyone, to criticize or blame. You are also well-aware of leaders who
appropriately point out problems but seldom point out good work. It is not
unusual to see the compliment/criticism balance favoring criticism. The
adaptive leader certainly attends carefully to keeping the balance in balance.


Finding and keeping the balance is based on
taking it for granted that people are trying to do a good job. They do not
intentionally screw things up, make mistakes, or perform below their abilities.
Even more, most everyone on the team consciously and intentionally gives that
little extra that moves good work into the excellent category. Their commitment
to excellence is a major reason why they are on the team; and excellence is
what you get from them, the first time, on time, every time.


Here is the rub. With highly successful
teams, the expectation is that team members perform at the excellent level
every time, no exceptions, no excuses. People are extraordinarily good at what
they do. With teams like this, compliments and praise are plentiful and lavish.
Even when people are not being complimented directly, they receive indirect
compliments and praise from customers and others in the external environment.
They are among the best and they know it. It helps to attend to direct praise
and acknowledgment of superior performance but this is merely an extra quality
touch in an already self-reinforcing environment. If a team is not doing well,
compliments and praise will not, by themselves, help much. If it is doing well,
additional praise and compliments will not add much to its success.


The real issue here is criticism. Of course,
the adaptive leader praises publicly and only criticizes in private. He also is
very careful to assure that his criticism is an exact fit with the problem or
issue, not overdoing it or under doing it. Criticism, no matter how well it is
managed, introduces a negative element into a fast-moving, stressful
environment where people are already on edge and pushing themselves to their
limits. The effect is that the person who is criticized (and those who are
coincidentally in the immediate environment) becomes apprehensive and less
productive, at least for the moment. The point is that criticism is always
temporarily counterproductive. For this reason, the adaptive leader is quick to
praise but very cautious when criticizing anyone, for any reason.


Clear, accurate, and frequent feedback is
certainly important. The adaptive leader knows, as well, that providing
constructive and effective criticism is the most delicate area of the feedback
balancing act. If this feedback is inappropriate or excessive, the person will
overreact or withdraw, and the outcome is often worse than the original
problem. If criticism is not forthcoming when it is appropriate, or is not
focused enough, the problem or issue persists and likely will get worse.
Getting criticism right is critical for any leader and an essential ingredient
of a high-performance team.


As if the challenge of getting criticism
right were not enough by itself, there is an additional dimension that further
complicates the matter. The standards increase. Yesterday’s acceptable
performance levels are under continuous review and may not be acceptable today.
Team members who have performed adequately in the past may have that same
quality of work criticized and judged unacceptable today. They find that they
have shifted from valued team members to people who are marginal performers. At
a minimum, the bar is constantly being raised and higher levels of performance
are expected. The unavoidable but possible result is that a member has to leave
the team. If this happens, other members then become anxious about whether they
might be next. Because of this anxiety, any criticism must be managed very
carefully and judiciously.


The major implication of all of this is that
an adaptive leader must be a very good teacher. Further, all incidents or
situations that could potentially lead to criticism must be redefined as
teaching opportunities. Good leaders never criticize. It is just too dangerous.
Instead, they know how and when to teach and are careful to never miss a
teaching opportunity.


The key here is in understanding the nature
of the teaching opportunities. The most common prompt for these types of
teaching opportunities stems from an inadequacy in work or work performance.
The team member is just not up to today’s expected level in one or more areas.
Dealing with this is fairly easy. Simply sit with the team member to discuss
the inadequacies and to develop a mutually agreed on plan for correcting them.
This may mean more training, more attention to detail, connecting with a
mentor, or anything else that will get the valued team member from here to
there. Set specific dates for activities, for evaluation of progress, as well
as for having the deficiency corrected. As you can see, it is simply another
application of the adaptive leader’s usual problem solving strategy.


The more serious challenge comes when the
team member either cannot or will not do what is expected or continues
unacceptable behavior after having been warned. First, there must not be any
delay. It is unfair to the member to put off confronting the issue. Further,
avoiding doing what needs done gives the member the impression that there is no
problem. Do today’s business today, even if it is uncomfortable or potentially
unpleasant. If you need additional incentive, the task will become even more
uncomfortable and unpleasant if you postpone it until tomorrow.


When you do confront the issue, say, “My
problem is…. (Be quite specific.) You either will not or cannot do what I
expect. If you can’t, we will talk about that. If you will not, there is
nothing to discuss further. You cannot remain on the team. Is it can’t or
won’t?” If the team member feels capable, develop a plan to correct the
problem. If the member feels incapable, reassign the team member to other
responsibilities, if possible. If the member has to leave the team, make the
arrangements to do that, giving as much consideration to the individual’s needs
and circumstances as you can. You are still dealing with a valued person, even
though team membership is terminated. People in this situation are entitled to
the same level of humanity and respectful treatment as they received while they
were being recruited for the team. The adaptive Leadership Excellence basics
still apply every day, every time, with everyone, no exceptions, no excuses.




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