Adaptive capacity and other leadership skills

What makes a successful leader?

I really ought to leave a big space on the page at this point so that you have time to think of your own answer to that….

In their book, Geeks and Geezers, Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas argue that too much attention is paid to traits and other individual factors in the study of leadership. For them, success in leadership emerges as a result of what they call ‘adaptive capacity’. Leaders vary in terms of IQ, birth order, wealth, etc., but adaptive capacity is key.

It’s the ability to transcend adversity and emerge stronger on the other side. It’s being able to process new experiences, draw meaning from them and integrate them into life. It’s a capacity that can be increased through use. It includes hardiness and perseverance; the ability to notice; seizing opportunities.

If adaptive capacity is what most allows leaders to successfully navigate a crucible experience, Bennis and Thomas highlight three further essential skills for leaders:

  • Engaging others by creating shared meaning: ‘Effective leaders don’t just impose their vision on others, they recruit others to a shared vision.’
  • Voice – which involves purpose and self-awareness.
  • Integrity – which they define, interestingly, as a proper balance between three key elements: ambition, competence and moral compass.

What do you think? Do you agree? Are there other leadership skills that you think are as/more important?

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