Adaptation and Innovative Leadership Before It's Too Late

Rapidly emerging technologies, agile, efficient and affordable business models, new customer and employee expectations. Today's world is very different from what it was 15 years ago. But even more frightening is that today it is very different from what it will be in the next 10 years, and we will not be able to know exactly how it will be.

Whoever designs the strategy to guide their team, and themselves, through a process of transformation and change in a context of uncertainty, must first know what is the psychological impact that change can have, how organizations work and how to overcome the most overwhelming obstacles from the psychological aspect to achieve the desired goal.

Jill Hufnagel, Director of JHC&C Leadership Collaborative, works side by side with senior managers to guide them within the framework of adaptive leadership. Adaptive Leadership is a set of ideas that emerged at Harvard Kennedy School some 40 years ago, as a tool to lead the development of strategies to solve public affairs, but has been used around the world and in all industries and sectors.

Hufnagel explains that the concept of adaptive leadership distinguishes two types of tasks: “there is technical work and adaptive work. The first is simply the set of specific technical tasks, for which manuals and protocols exist. But for adaptive tasks, for which there are no simple solutions or instructions to carry them out, such as keeping up with new technology or keeping customers satisfied despite changing preferences, the only way to accomplish them is through experimentation and learning as you try out different solutions. The short-circuit occurs when trying to apply a technical solution to an adaptive issue. There, the human team begins to fracture”.

Regarding the psychological impact of change, Hufnagel explains that “it is important to know that one of the most frightening aspects of change is not so much the change itself, but the loss. It could be the loss of identity, of competencies; that is, many of the qualities on which people have built their professional careers could become obsolete.


What can leaders do to control their teams' anxiety, their own, and avoid those fractures? According to Hufnagel, “the first step for people leading transformation will be to reflect on their own reaction to change and potential loss. How do you react to these situations? The rest of the team will have their eyes on you, and your behavior will be key to conveying security in times of uncertainty.”

The second aspect is to differentiate those processes that continue to be repeated simply because they are a legacy and have always been like that, but which really do not add value or make sense in the current situation. Hufnagel says that “getting rid of “the legacy” is deeper than it seems. In a way, it means getting rid of the “cash cow” that has resulted in the past to dedicate yourself to something new that hasn't even been tested yet. Differentiating inherited practices is a difficult but absolutely necessary job in order to give rise to new and efficient practices that respond to the times ahead and those to come. 

Finally, Hufnagel highlights the importance of gradual and constant adaptation by saying that “innovation and change must be planned and set in motion before it becomes urgent and emergent”.