During so much uncertainty and disruption in these unprecedented times, walking into the unknown can feel daunting. As leaders, we are shouldered with the role of anchoring our employees and organizations. We do our best to show up for them, offer direction and make decisions for moving forward, despite our own concerns and feelings of uncertainty.
But leadership is about influencing and creating a better future. We have to practice active hope by becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for – even when there is a large gap between our reality and desired future. We can take steps to move ourselves, our employees and our businesses in that direction by following nature’s examples of adaptation.
Take it from the sun
We see the sun as a constant – always rising, never changing. And yet the sun rises and sets at different times, and in a different position, each day. Businesses, too, often choose to function under the comforting illusion that they are static – that change is not normal or welcomed by the organization or its employees. Adaptive capacity, then, becomes a real challenge because change is a fact of life. Nature (and the sun) accept this truth. The shifting of how much daylight we have, or the position of the sun, is unremarkable. The sun doesn’t worry if changing position will create a problem for its identity or brand.
Denying the reality of circumstances and being reluctant to change can paralyze leaders in uncertain times. By accepting and opening ourselves to inevitable changes, we will be able to see our organizations as living systems, where adaptation occurs naturally. People adapt to colleagues’ emotions; they adapt to the directives from their leaders; they shift the way they work with customers and clients, and they see changes happening in the external environment.
How to encourage natural adaptation
We can foster these naturally occurring adaptations if we recharge how we design, think and lead our organization in this interim period, which will undoubtedly shape how we lead our businesses in the future, calmer times. And with active hope, we can show up and act in a way that is aligned with the future we want to happen. Rather than weighing our chances and proceeding only when we feel optimistic, we can focus on our intention and let it be our guide.
Here are some reflective questions for consideration:
- What controlling processes and rules do I need to let go of right now? Project focus and job descriptions should become fluid, perhaps even very different from pre-crisis levels. It is unreasonable to expect to meet all previously set targets or hold employees accountable to all duties in their job description when some simply aren’t possible or relevant at present.
- What systems can I facilitate that encourage natural adaptation from my employees? This requires deviating from business as usual and encouraging new ideas and approaches. And new systems will need to be adjusted over and over again based on feedback.
- How can I shift away from top-down leadership? Nature’s adaptive capacity starts with its ability to self-organize. When leadership structure discourages the self-organization of employees, it cripples employees’ adaptive capacity. Be flexible and involve staff in your processes for organizational reflection and change.
The sun will continue to rise.
As we continue to walk down a path that is not fully seen, clarity will only emerge with forward movement. Our ability to scan the horizon and adapt quickly to shifts will be more valued than waiting until everything becomes clear. By accepting reality, reflecting on our processes and practicing active hope, we will help facilitate natural adaptation in the living systems that our organizations really are.
A version of this post was originally published here.