How does inability to adapt cause leadership decay?

How Does Inability To Adapt Cause Leadership Decay?

We all have a tendency to want to continue to do what we’ve been doing, when what we’ve been doing has been successful. Sometimes successful leaders fall into the trap of trying to repeat their successes from the past, when in fact, the way they created those successes no longer works.

Context and situations change. What worked before may no longer work particularly in modern day organizations. While it may be important for leaders to hold enduring beliefs and values over time, it’s also the case that these beliefs and values do not support leadership actions that are NEEDED by the organization.

For example, a leader may succeed over time by believing in retaining staff at all costs — the idea being that loyalty to employees will be rewarded by loyalty to the organization. A laudable position, to be sure. But what happens when the situation changes? What happens when the leader faces a situation where staff reductions are required for the longer term health of the organization? Can he make that decision? Can he make it in a timely manner? And what are the consequences to everyone if he cannot adapt?

This is a fairly extreme (but obvious example), but similarly, a leader may work effectively for quite some time using a set of communication skills and a particular approach to leadership. One of the few things we do know about leadership is that there is no universal recipe that works all the time in every situation, and that different contexts call for different approaches, what happens if that style no longer works because the organization has changed, or the personnel have changed?

Ultimately, leaders who remain successful need to adapt and that adaptation is requires leader’s willingness to pay attention to the shifting environment around her.

Consider that sometimes such adaptations are not possible if they require a fundamental (and unacceptable) shift in the leader’s beliefs and values. In our example above, it may be that the leader cannot in good conscience, undertake massive layoffs in order to save a company. In that situation, the ethical path is to step down. There is no longer a good fit between what the leader believes and what the company requires for survival.

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