We all tend to fit one of seven types of change leader, each of which indicates a different mix of leading with Head, Heart, or Hands. The seventh and final change leader type is the Adapter, relies equally on all three.
Adapters are role models for friendliness to change. When at their best, they emerge as positive, engaging ambassadors for change.
In The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner list the five pillars of great leaders, and one of them is a willingness to “Challenge the Process.” As the change leader style most open to experimentation, Adapters may be naturally inclined to do as Kouzes and Posner recommend and “search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and exercising ‘outsight,’ and experiment and take risks by generating small wins and learning from experience.”
Adapters generally help others do the same as well. Their natural inquisitiveness and change-friendliness increases the probability that they will create an environment in which people can arrive at insights themselves; and when people arrive at their own insights, they’re much more likely to own the change. As David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz write in their article “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” “At a moment of insight, a complex set of new connections [in the brain] is being created. These connections have the potential to enhance our mental resources and overcome the brain’s resistance to change. But to achieve this, given the brain’s limited working memory, we need to make a deliberate effort to hardwire an insight by paying it repeated attention. That is why employees need to ‘own’ any kind of change initiative for it to be successful . . . For insights to be useful, they need to be generated from within, not given to individuals as conclusions.”
Adapters need to remember that flexibility and agreeableness are probably not the legacy they want to leave behind them as business leaders. Yes, great leaders need to consider the input of others and remain open to course corrections during times of change. But they also need to make unpopular decisions and keep moving forward confidently, with their compass pointed toward true north.
I take a closer look at Adapters, along with the other six leadership styles, in Change Intelligence. You may already have a hunch on which type you are, but included in the book is a code to access an assessment that will give you a definitive answer on which of these change leader styles is your own.