By: van Orsouw 03-04-2018
Adaptability vs Vision in Leaders
Change is an ever present feature of today’s world. This is especially true in the world of business. The complexity of doing business can give rise to a tension between a company’s vision, and the organizational adaptability that the firm needs to adopt in order to maintain that vision. With the pace of change increasing, a variety of leadership skills are urgently needed, as well as a strategy to determine which skill to use for a given challenge.
In 2010, IBM’s CEO study reported that the rising rate of complexity associated with the fast paced nature of technological innovation and connectedness, and the uncertainty associated with both, was the biggest challenge facing organizational leaders around the world. Among the many factors analysed in the study, creativity was selected as the main one to allow organizations to successfully navigate the complexity of the modern world. As physicist Amory Lovins commented, “We’ve got 21st century technology and speed colliding head-on with 20th and 19th century institutions, rules and cultures.” Such a situation necessitates adaptability and change.
This is not to say that adaptability is the sole factor in successful leadership for the 21st century. Jeff Childs, Chief Human Resources Officer at Ultra Beauty, defines leadership as “the responsibility of an individual to define a common purpose of vision—a desired outcome—that crystallizes the path of where that individual’s team is going. Secondly, [leadership] is a choice as to how to achieve that desired outcome.” In other words, defining what will be accomplished (the vision) is also important.
A firm which sticks with a vision in isolation from the realities of change exposes itself to unforeseen challenges resulting from the change and, furthermore, will be unprepared to deal with these challenges. At the same time, a firm which prioritises adaptability in the absence of any coherent long term goal means that it has no control over its own future.
The complexity of the global economy has shaken what we thought we knew about management. Some leaders see in this complexity new opportunities. Others feel a growing sense of despondency about an inability to see what the future holds. This is where the confluence of vision and adaptability are most needed. One influences the other. For instance, it has been observed that a leader with vision can help to improve the adaptability of employees, leading to an increase in change-oriented behaviour. The key is to arm organizations with the understanding of a new kind of leadership role, one which prioritises a synthesis of both vision and adaptability. Both strategies are required in today’s fast changing world.
Written by Adam Watson for Together Abroad