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Leading With Adaptability During Turbulent Times

A Good Leader Is Proactive, Not Reactive, And Highly be Adaptable.

Life in the service and support industry, particularly on a 24×7 service desk, is not for the faint of heart. We face business issues, outages, escalations, and system downtime every day! In fact, we often hear more about the bad and the broken than the positive feedback on awesome support our team delivers.

My favorite phrase attributed to Winston Churchill: “Never let a good crisis go to waste” is all about not missing an opportunity to reflect on fire drills, IT disasters big and small because these moments provide valuable lessons which have the power to test teamwork and resilience, and to shape the culture and collaboration of any team.

My team and I are tested daily on how we respond in ‘crisis’ situations, and the biggest learning for us happens to be in the area of communication, collaboration, accountability, and structure. We never lack passion and volunteers to fix issues, but what we sometimes lack is a coherent plan and structure to tackle a crisis in the most effective way. Too many cooks not only spoil the broth, they also can lead to wasted time and delayed resolution.

Every crisis needs a leader – a single point of accountability pulling all resources together, motivating the troops, providing updates to stakeholders, communicating and over-communicating to all involved, checking progress, and driving closure. Tools and technology are always there to support us, yes, but it’s the power of strong leadership that makes or breaks our ability to deal with a crisis successfully.

Today, as we confront unprecedented challenges, adaptive leadership becomes not just a choice but a vital necessity.

Let’s dive into the heart of adaptive leadership and explore how steering through uncertainty can propel not only survival but also growth and increased learning.

  • Embrace Change with Open Arms: Adaptive leadership isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.Leaders who pivot and adjust strategies swiftly lead their teams through unforeseen challenges. Embrace change as an opportunity, not a threat. Adaptability isn’t just a skill; it’s the lifeline of successful leadership during any crisis. And talking about unforeseen challenges, one example of embracing change is the way that our industry has adapted to the rapid changes brought by the COVID-19 outbreak. Service and support industry has shifted to remote work literally overnight… That level of acceleration of digital transformation, new ways of working and doing business was completely unprecedented yet we have embraced new technologies and new processes with both agility and speed.
  • Communicate Clearly in the Fog of Uncertainty: When storm clouds gather, clarity becomes the guiding star.Transparent and consistent communication is key. Team members look to leaders for direction, and clear, honest communication fosters trust and unity. Address uncertainties head-on, acknowledge challenges, and outline a flexible path forward. In times of crisis, silence is not golden; it’s a void that breeds uncertainty. Communicate, go back, check, communicate again, ask for feedback. Then repeat it all again! There is no such thing as over communicating, particularly when distilling meaning from chaos. From my personal experience, challenging situations require keeping messages simple and to the point.  Actionable, well framed instructions can help and remove any doubt or uncertainty.
  • Foster Innovation Born from Adversity: True innovation often emerges from the crucible of adversity.Adaptive leaders encourage a culture where unconventional ideas are not just welcomed but celebrated. Create an environment where every team member feels empowered to contribute innovative solutions, no matter how unusual or alternative . Crisis often brings forth the most creative and impactful solutions. Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, is a great example of adaptive leadership style. He transformed the company by shifting its focus towards cloud-based services and promoting a culture of innovation and collaboration.
  • Cultivate Resilience in the Face of Setbacks: Setbacks are inevitable, but their impact is determined by the team’s resilience.Both failures and setbacks are never easy to cope with, an adaptive leader will focus on finding some healthy coping skills such as focusing the team on resolution, positive mindset and avoiding negative thinking. For me personally,  it can be something as simple as encouraging my team to take a break, reflect and regroup. Resilience isn’t the absence of challenges but the ability to bounce back stronger after facing them.Adaptive leaders cultivate a resilient mindset, emphasizing learning from failures. Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, focus on how to move forward. Yes, lessons learnt review is always a good process to follow as long as the focus is placed on the future improvement. It’s also important to expect and recognize setbacks, keep looking forward, and try to understand the circumstances that caused the setback.
  • Balance Stability and Flexibility: Adaptive leadership is a delicate dance between stability and flexibility.

While providing a stable foundation, leaders must also pivot when circumstances demand. This equilibrium ensures that the team remains grounded yet agile, ready to navigate through the twists and turns that crisis brings. One approach to balancing stability and flexibility is to focus on solid foundations of the organizational structure.

This involves creating and maintaining a structure which supports both stability and flexibility through having a clear hierarchy. Clarity of well defined roles and responsibilities drive accountability whilst also promoting cross-functional collaboration and empowering employees to make decisions without fear of failure or consequence. I am a big fan of encouraging my team members to take action and being able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. I don’t expect them to ‘ask for permission’ if they act in good faith, right judgment and follow the agreed organizational design parameters.

In conclusion, adaptive leadership isn’t a theoretical concept but a practical necessity in today’s tumultuous business world and particularly in forever changing world of IT service and support.

Adaptive leaders embrace change, communicate clearly, foster innovation, cultivate resilience of both individuals and teams. By practicing these principles, leaders can effectively navigate their teams through times of uncertainty and change.

In the spirit of Churchill’s wisdom, let’s not waste this crisis; let’s leverage it to become stronger, more agile as leaders and teams, working together, learning together, guiding each other to calmer waters on the other side. And as we weather the storms together, let’s remember that challenges, when met with adaptability, become steppingstones to future success and innovation.

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