Adaptive leadership, a key to sustainable performance

N°207b – Synopsis (8p.) – Management Styles
Adaptive leadership, a key to sustainable performance
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There is no magic formula in management. It's the ability to adapt that makes the difference. How to adjust one's management style to the demands of the situation?

Most managers have an ideal management style model in mind. For example, delegation, empowerment, and stimulating initiative are examples of best practices now seen to be universally applicable. These practices appear to have replaced the old command and control model which is now considered insufficiently motivating and empowering for employees.

Yet, real life is not so clear-cut. “I want to delegate effectively,” confides a recently-appointed director of operations, “but I have the impression I’m giving the car keys to someone who doesn’t know how to drive! Some of my managers are not reliable, and that makes me very nervous. I’m not even sure that they really want that much autonomy.” Indeed, attempting to conform to an idealized model of the participative leader would be an aberration in a context where production quality is critical and people are not sufficiently qualified. By the same token, crisis management experts point out that in emergency situations, leaders must assert and impose their decisions—a crisis is no time to talk things over or seek consensus! In such cases, the focus must be on setting a clear course of action and moving quickly. From there, however, it only takes a short leap to reinstate the old directive management model. Yet this would be a big mistake!

Indeed, assert the experts, the best managers are able to adapt to the demands of the situation and the specific qualities of their people. It is not so much a matter of developing a specific personal style or conforming to an ideal model as building a range of styles from which to select depending on the situation. We certainly all have our preferences and are more comfortable with particular styles. However, these preferences must also make us aware of situations where we would benefit by exchanging our natural style for a more suitable management approach.

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