The Better Work Project: Adaptive Leadership Part 2

29 April

The old school approach to leadership is dying, How can we adapt as leaders to face the challenges of the modern workplace? In this podcast we take a pragmatic approach to applying new ways of working.



  • This episode of the podcast explores the death of the old school leadership techniques.
  • Joining the podcast once more is Pat Reed. Pat is an international recognised thought leader in agile and in adaptive leadership.
  • Traditional management worked well over 100 years ago when it emerged out of the industrial revolution when work was more predictable.
  • Today there is far more uncertainty with many ‘unknown unknowns’ happening every day. If we were planning an annual budget earlier this year for instance have no idea that we’d be in the position we are today.
  • We need to replace these traditional techniques with more adaptive techniques to meet the needs of our customer.
  • A lot of time and energy is put into maintaining old school habits and being measured against old parameters. People don’t know how to do it any differently.
  • There are examples of companies that have set budgets and are still measuring against those same budgets’ despite of the impact of COVID and those companies are guaranteed to miss opportunities to adapt and redirect investment.
  • If you feel like you should not stop the budgeting cycle, think about the waste.
  • Stop conflating budget, forecast and targets as they can be at odds with each other. Budget is at operating level for business. Targets are more aspirational around what is possible. And the forecast is what you actually see happening.
  • Budgeting is a complex adaptive challenge. It’s hard to untangle because you have to understand and think of your strategy as adaptive.
  • We can help organisations to develop a strategy map for the quarter and develop an organisational value model. When you introduce new tools, you can let go of the old model.
  • Beyond budgeting provides a pragmatic approach to budget planning.
  • Businesses need cognitive diversity.  People on the front line know more than the executives and can feed that information back.
  • A lot of management concepts have come from management thinking of 100 years ago particularly separating workers from managers.
  • People need purpose and to develop mastery.  A leader today must not tell people how to do something but why and what a successful outcome looks like.
  • Leaders can’t direct what their people are doing. Their role is to create the right climate.
  • An old school approach compromises people feeling empowered.
  • We want people to respond to emerging threats and opportunities.
  • If you’ve been conditioned on hearing from or gaining approval from leaders then you’re immobilised.
  • When dealing with a complex and dynamic environment you need to test and learn. You can’t have a harness on. You need to be able to learn fast.
  • Workers need to embrace this and need the psychological safety to do that. People may fear retribution if the outcome isn’t successful. Learned helplessness is a real problem.
  • It can compromise innovation if you create conditioned helplessness.
  • We can help develop leadership skills.
  • People need a choice in their career trajectory, that doesn’t always have to be a leadership role, it may be in a technical domain. They need opportunities to stretch and grow in their role or even new roles.
  • We need to make work fulfilling. We have to let people design their own path.
  • 60% of managers are failing. They aren’t taking an adaptive leadership approach.
  • There’s an opportunity to see instead of a career ladder, a career mosaic. We can stretch into new skills and new roles.
  • The notion of good ideas all coming from the top is designed to fail. Most transformations fail because of old school beliefs.
  • Our brains are hardwired to reject change and expect the leader to tell them what to do because we want clarity and simplicity. 


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