Effective Leadership: Adaptive vs. Mechanical

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Effective LeadershipAssessing what leadership style best suits your organization’s mission and goals is a daunting prospect. Or is it?

Let’s start this discussion of mechanical leadership (activity focused) vs. adaptive leadership (outcome focused) by giving ourselves permission to accept that not all leaders can be both; that is, not all mechanical leaders can become adaptive, or vice versa. And that’s not a problem! For example, a division director may be the adaptive leader of a group of mechanical process managers. As long as the entire management team and their groups are aligned to produce the outcomes as defined by the upper management, all is well.

Arguably, every level of leadership in an organization could be adaptive. Whether that would increase the value-added outcomes is hard to determine, but educated guesswork indicates that it probably would not. Conversely, for an organization to be adaptive and agile, at least some of the leaders need an adaptive leadership style.

Mechanical leaders focus on the overall activities of the business, such as:

  • Schedules
  • Systems
  • Unit production
  • Deadlines
  • Personnel performance
  • Maintenance
  • Regulations, and

This work needs to be done in many organizations, and leaders who are very good at the mechanics of business are invaluable to organizations in one or many areas of management.

Adaptive leaders focus on outcomes that have added value, such as:

  • Innovation
  • Influence
  • Strategy
  • Positioning
  • Opportunity
  • Information
  • Environments
  • Capacity
  • Capability, and
  • Return on investment (ROI).

It takes heart, head, and hands to be an effective practitioner of either leadership style. Perhaps, above all, is the value of a leader’s ability to communicate the mission to their teams, and facilitate the team’s success.

A company that has only one type of leader is unlikely to achieve optimal success. Someone has to keep the systems running well while others figure out how to identify opportunities and generate results from them. And at the end of the day, every organization needs to keep their good leaders happy by allowing them to assume the leadership roles in which they can succeed, whether their best environment is a corner office, a shop floor, on the go, or on the clock.

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