Putting Real Stretch into Leadership Development

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April 5, 2012 | Joy Kosta, MSWP, MHCS, HRBP | HCI

If you’re into running (or even speed walking), you’re in the habit of stretching.  And if you’re getting back into resuming this healthy habit now that it’s spring, good for you!  Of course you’re remembering to do warm-up stretches in advance… they may not feel that good initially, but we get encouragement from early morning commuters who pass us in their cars, not to mention how great we feel when the morning exercise regimen is well-established.
I remember a phrase about flexibility that also applies to adaptability and change… initially it may look better than it feels.  On an individual level, stretch assignments have long been used as a developmental experience for leaders; and planning and supporting a stretch assignment effectively involves deciding how much “heat” to add to the opportunity, to intentionally expose developing leaders to specific learning experiences.
How does individuals' capacity for adaptability roll up to improve organizational capability and competitive advantage?  New research from The Boston Consulting Group reveals a link between a company’s financial performance and the adaptive capacity of its senior-leadership team. Moreover, in The Five Traits of Highly Adaptive Leadership Teams, authors Roselinde Torres and Nneka Rimmer found that the people who work for adaptive leadership teams also enjoy a more emotionally rich and engaging work experience.
Add adaptive to the list of “corporate athlete” qualities. To maintain competitive advantage in today’s dynamic world, here are BCG’s five disciplines and processes that characterize and develop adaptive leadership teams—and they all tie into research-based best talent practices:
1. Know how your market is changing.  Can you anticipate headline news before it is reported?  Environmental scanning is a discipline and methodology that will increase your company’s adaptability; your strategic workforce planning teams practice this as well. When environmental scanning is integrated into the process for developing and executing your business strategy all the better. 
2. Be able to synthesize complex insights and make high-quality decisions quickly. Know the difference between lagging metrics and predictive analytics- put both on your management dashboard to enable everyone to monitor progress. IBM’s global CEO study also identified that best leaders can make decisions in complex environments with ambiguity, uncertainty, even in the absence of data.
3. Practice distributed and collaborative leadership; share and process information to enable decisions at the junctures where different points of the matrix organization meet. BCG recommends senior leaders, “build a ‘neural network of frequent conversations with the next level of managers down, exchanging more accurate information and establishing the trust necessary when a company needs to rapidly move in a new direction.”  Drawing people from multiple levels into the conversation is especially important in virtual teams.
4. Establish parameters within which teams can take risk and experiment; accept failure as an acceptable outcome. Lessons learned and quickly applied from failure improve your organization’s course corrections, agility, and innovation capability.  (Encouraging healthy amounts of risk and learning from failure was practiced in only 33 percent of the companies BCG surveyed).
5. CEO selects and deploys people with complementary strengths, encourages constructive debate, fosters collective vision, and knows when to intervene to make decisions that take advantage of emerging opportunities.
Great practices to add to your spring training - we don't have to go for the burn- just adopt one practice at a time on a personal and organizational level. Soon, adaptability does feel as good as it looks, and you'll leave your competitiors in the dust.  Which recommended practice do you subscribe to, on an individual or organizational level; what have your experiences and observations been?  Drop me a line… 
photo courtesy of seandreilinger