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  • New Leadership Paradigm

Adaptability Imperative

The third implication of the new leadership paradigm is that leaders need to know how to build adaptable organisations. Adaptability is the corner stone of evolution, and the most essential quality for long-term sustainability. Without adaptability there can be no resilience.

In a four-year study of 200 organisations, John Kotter and Heskett of the Harvard Business School found that companies with strong adaptive cultures outperformed companies with rigid or weak cultures by significant margins. Revenues grew four times faster, the rate of job creation was seven times higher, and stock price grew 12 times faster.

Adaptability is not only important for businesses. It turns out that adaptability is also important in living a “successful” individual life. This is one of the main conclusions of a multi-decade longitudinal study of 100 Harvard graduates. The results of this research are reported in Adaptation to Life by George E. Vaillant.

Researchers found that the most “successful” individuals—those who were most able to deal with the vicissitudes of life—used mature coping strategies that enabled them to adapt to their life conditions. The strategies they used for self-regulation included:

  • Altruism: The ability to devote yourself to meeting the needs of others by making their concerns central to your life.
  • Humour: The ability to make fun of your situation and thereby lighten the load of what you have to bear.
  • Suppression: The ability to postpone paying attention to an impulse or conflict until you are calm enough to deal with it.
  • Anticipation: The ability to anticipate and plan for the possibility of future inner discomfort and manage the process.
  • Sublimation: The ability to attenuate or channel the expression of instinctual responses into avenues of expression that do not result in adverse consequences for yourself or others.

Nowadays, we would classify the mature coping strategies under the heading of emotional intelligence and social intelligence.

What this research, and the research of Kotter and Heskett, point to is the importance of personal and organisational adaptability in dealing with challenging situations. This means being able to dialogue with other people, other organisations, and other nations that have differing points of view to find ways forward that support the common good.


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TNLP References

Chapter 1: Introduction (Adaptability)