Skip links

Adaptive Leadership: A Success Story

“Our team interacted like a well-oiled machine; each gear turning in a synchronized fashion. No one got stressed out. Everyone knew their R&R’s and as a result, we achieved ALL of our goals,”

Rob Lindros, Telecom Design Engineer

Rob Lindros had spent 15 years in software development when he was faced with an adaptive problem. He was working in a large technology company when he volunteered to take on a project that was failing miserably. He was the solutions architect who had to tackle a -500% production rate. And for six months, only a single document deliverable had been produced. Lindros treated this problem as an opportunity to apply and learn how a technical guy like him could solve an adaptive challenge.

It became even more challenging when they were only given two-thirds of the resources they requested. Moreover, they were given only half the time they needed to troubleshoot the situation. “Their logic was simply that four people working overtime (80 hours per week) would be cheaper than the flat rate of six resources,” he explained. Lindros could not figure out how to get a team of stressed and overburdened developers deliver in such a short time. To him, this was a huge problem, seeing that it could put all their goals at risk.

He stepped back from looking at the time constraint and crafted a game plan to categorize the tasks into different functional areas. Instead of dumping the workload on everyone, he requested to meet the members of the team individually for an hour each. His aim was to understand their personalities, preferences, past experience, as well as skill level.

By using adaptive leadership tools, there is more success in shifting the responsibility of solving the problem to the “collective intelligence.” It also means coaching people in doing their tasks well. The project’s initial failure was not attributable to technical shortcomings. Instead, it was an internal complication within the team and their dynamics and strategy. In his new scheme and process, the team moved in synchronicity. Even with inadequate resources, they finished projects with a higher success rate.

Professor Ronald Heifetz from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government came up with the concept of adaptive leadership to address complex, organizational challenges like that of Lindros’ company. The practice of adaptive leadership is also being taught in leadership programs organized by the Center for Asia Leadership (CAL), led by teaching fellows from leading business schools such as Harvard and Stanford University.

Leadership training is truly essential for problem-solving and achieving results. Great leaders, who employ modern leadership tools and an adaptive mindset, are more able to immerse in their situations. This leadership style allows the leader to understand the problem better, as illustrated by the Haitian proverb, “We see from where we stand.” This is similar to the leadership skills displayed by Lindros, which involved talking to the people in order to grasp the bigger picture and identify the best solution. In any case, only an adaptive leader would know how to look beyond the technical problem and see beyond the obvious to solve an adaptive challenge.

By: Nathalie Ona