Key Ability for Today’s Leaders? Adaptation Tops The List!

Recently pondering the motivation dilemma that most all organizations face at one time or another, I remembered my father’s mantra about creating the right organizational climate:  “Just check with the plumber about which way it runs,” he would say.  “It starts at the top and quickly goes downhill.”

Apathy is one of the most serious concerns for organizations today. Apathetic employees are unhappy, unproductive, deliver poor customer service and are lemmings jumping off the cliff of retention.  Some leaders still believe that incentives such as raises, benefits and employee recognition programs will boost motivation.  Clearly, everyone wants more money, but motivation does not follow just because we put more of the green stuff in our pockets.  At any rate, it is vital to be able to identify the root causes of low motivation.

No doubt my father was right.  After all, it is not uncommon to hear discussions about the influence leaders have on the rest of the organization; how their demeanor, approach, decisions, and actions affect everyone down line.  Frankly, every Tom, Dick and Harriet offers their personal notion of ideal leadership and character traits.  A simple online search will literally get you thousands of opinions, and they all boil down to the same 10-15 traits.

The problem is not in realizing which traits are important.  The problem is in knowing when and how to put any of these skills to use.  Not exhibiting a particular skill when it is most needed or deploying the wrong trait in a given instance is the cornerstone of most complaints about leaders.   Like a carpenter who uses a hammer when a saw is needed, so too are leaders limited in their effectiveness when they have a limited range or when they employ the wrong skill when another one would work better.  Therefore, I suggest to you that there is one and only one ability that binds all skills and traits:  Role Adaptation — the ability to adjust to varying circumstances and people and choose effective responses.

This is not easy to do.

The Dominant personality often lacks empathy; the Influencer often lacks discipline and specificity; the Steadfast individual often lacks assertiveness; and the conscientious individual usually struggles with spontaneity and encouragement.

Why should you be concerned?  It is my experience that many leaders are both inflexible in their approach and unaware of their effect on people.  And because they almost never receive feedback, they are left unaware of the effect they are having on teamwork, motivation, morale and trust.  According to Patrick Lencioni (2002), a lack of trust has a snowball effect on teams and creates a fear of conflict, a lack of overall commitment to the goals and vision of the organization, an avoidance of accountability, and a general inattention to results; in other words, apathy.

What should you do?  Heighten your leader’s self-awareness with a well-respected and valid assessment.  There are several on the market today, but make sure you choose one that tells your leader’s what their strengths are as well as how others may be experiencing them.  Make sure the goal is to heighten awareness and add flexibility in their approach, never to punish or demean.

It may be helpful to recall the great actors who can alter their face and voice to achieve the desired effect on the audience.  So too can supervisors and leaders learn how to create atmosphere and improve relationships.

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