Becoming an Adaptive Leader

An Executive Forum Presentation by Jennifer James, PhD, Synopsis by Rod Cox
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“One of the most difficult aspects of adapting to rapid change, particularly when it is accompanied by complex technology and multiplying data sources, is the ability to give up an old construct about the way things ought to be and develop a new one based on the current realities. Accepting a new version of reality – essentially telling a new story – requires cultural intelligence. Cultural intelligence is the ability to observe, learn and understand our own culture as well as the culture of others. It is an essential skill in a diverse community and a global market.

There are four stages to adaptation: technology, economics, demographics and culture. We adapt easily to new technology, we accommodate new economic structures, we welcome new workers, but we resist changing cultural beliefs. Culture is basically the beliefs we have about the ‘way things ought to be.’ Culture always lags behind technological, economic and demographic shifts.

To be effective, leaders have to ‘see it,’ and be able to pass the vision on to every stakeholder. They must be able to tell the ‘new story’ if they expect their staff, constituency or clients to accept their leadership or their product. Because the last step in any adaptation process is cultural (visceral) change, it requires a compelling, believable story that is easily understood and linked to our deepest values and beliefs.”