Adaptive Leadership is Purposeful Learning in Real Time

In the book “The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World” the authors describe adaptive leadership as “a practical leadership framework that helps individuals and organizations adapt and thrive in challenging environments. It is being able, both individually and collectively, to take on the gradual but meaningful process of adaptation. It is about diagnosing the essential from the expendable and bringing about a real challenge to the status quo.

When you realize that your organization’s aspirations—the innovations and progress you want to see—demand responses outside the current capacities, Adaptive Leadership is the framework you need to effectively close the gap and make your aspirations reality. It provides a disciplined approach to do more for what you care most about.

Adaptive Leadership is purposeful evolution in real time.”

I like, the complete definition which is very relevant to law enforcement, specifically the last sentence “Adaptive Leadership is purposeful evolution in real time” sticks out in my mind as an area to focus on for this post. Why? Because we must always have an explorer mindset and an ability to learn in real-time when we respond to calls for service and handle crisis situations. The calls we handle are always dynamic and evolving and unique situations and we must make a purposeful effort to explore the situation and experiment while applying options to resolve the situation.

Purposeful evolution, (growth, development, learning) is something we should certainly strive for in the law enforcement profession, but we all too often fail to do. The talking stage we have down pat! Hell we can talk things to death and sound really good while doing it! But TALK and perhaps developing a policy on the particular subject is normally where the learning ends. If we are to be a true leaning organization we must take our learning beyond the talking stage to applying the lessons learned. Talking about the lessons learned is a big piece of policing but if we want to be more successful in safely executing our operations we must take advantage of every opportunity to learn and leverage every lesson, by developing more realistic training programs and putting a real focus on educating officers who become real time problem solvers.

I have learned through hundreds of exchanges with cops that officers talk a lot about “officer safety and effectiveness as it relates to street level execution.” The “talk” focuses on safety in numbers or staffing, back-up, contact cover principle, cover and concealment, firearms training, situational awareness, recognizing the signs and signals of crime and danger, reading body language, decision making under pressure, active shooter response, hostage negotiation, barricaded subject response, tactical response and approach to calls, central verses decentralized leadership, off duty survival and many more tactical concepts as well. Talking about these concepts is great, BUT IT’S NOWHERE NEAR GOOD ENOUGH!

“Leadership can be described as a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective, and directs his or her organization in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent. Leaders carry out this process by applying their personal attributes, such as beliefs, values, ethics, knowledge and skills.” ~Donald Vandergriff, Raising the Bar: Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War

How many cops apply these tactical concepts discussed above on the street? How many leaders encourage they are practiced? How many take short cuts or possess a complacent mind? How many law enforcement leaders allow that complacent mindset to exist? How many think ‘it will not happen to me’ or ‘it will not happen here’ and just follow the same old routine at getting things done, despite knowing we should be doing something much more tactically sound? How many leaders take the time to facilitate learning on their perspective shifts after personally observing unsound tactics being applied? Adaptive leaders would be all over this in a positive way because they know learning from recent experiences is an opportunity to learn and improve at every level.

MY POINT! Talk is cheap and its time we started walking our talk and applying the concepts we say are so near and dear to our effectiveness and safety on the street. In the end “purposeful learning” comes down to doing the things we talk about; applying our know-how to the evolving and current situation while understanding the why behind the tactical option we have chosen. Is it a technical problem we face where known ways of doing things and current policies and procedures will help resolve the issue? Or is it an adaptive challenge that can only be addressed through changes in people’s priorities, beliefs, habits and loyalties. Making progress requires going beyond any authoritative expertise to mobilize discovery, destroying certain entrenched ways, tolerating losses, and generating the new capacity to thrive anew. Adaptive leaders understand the need for more flexible and adaptable officers and a more flexible and adaptable leaders. We do this by continuously learning and improving.

Adaptive leadership helps us to adapt and thrive in challenging situations and understanding the difference between technical problems and adaptive challenges and, where they sync, is oh so crucial to successful outcomes.

“The most common leadership mistake is treating Adaptive Challenges as if they were technical problems. Technical problems can be solved by an authority or expert. They have a known solution. Adaptive Challenges are quite different. They have no known solution – the skills and answers are outside your repertoire. Adaptive Challenges are those you have to grow into solving and require mobilizing people’s hearts and minds to operate differently. Luckily, these skills can be learned regardless of position or function.

Leading effectively requires recognizing both the adaptive and technical aspects of a situation and tailoring your efforts accordingly.” ~The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World

This type of purposeful leaning takes great effort on the part of leadership ensuring proper realistic developmental programs of instruction are brought to officers as well as the need to empower bottoms-up initiative. It’s time to stop merely talking and learn to discipline ourselves to walk the walk of a learning/evolving individual officer and police organization by doing what you know is necessary, and by seeking out more education and training to consistently help us to strive to create and nurture what you know, growing your skill sets (cognitive and physical) so that we can do more than talk about them and instead be able to apply them to the environment we find ourselves in.

Stay Oriented!