Adaptive Strategic Leaders – Balancing Stability and Change

The speed of change in business is accelerating and the volume of data and information that comes to leaders of organizations is increasing exponentially.  It can be overwhelming but mindlessly following a fixed strategic direction may be heading for extinction.  That is why strategic leaders must be adaptive when circumstances demand this.  They must also continue to give strong leadership to their organizations.

This balancing act between stability and change demands some special ways of working.  Paul J. H. Schoemaker has set this out in an article entitled 6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers.  As he says, “Adaptive strategic leaders — the kind who thrive in today’s uncertain environment – do six things well.”  His article expands on this theme but here are the 6 habits:


  1. Look for game-changing information at the periphery of your industry
  2. Search beyond the current boundaries of your business
  3. Build wide external networks to help you scan the horizon better

Think Critically

  1. Reframe problems to get to the bottom of things, in terms of root causes
  2. Challenge current beliefs and mindsets, including your own
  3. Uncover hypocrisy, manipulation, and bias in organizational decisions


  1. Seek patterns in multiple sources of data
  2. Encourage others to do the same
  3. Question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses simultaneously


  1. Carefully frame the decision to get to the crux of the matter
  2. Balance speed, rigor, quality and agility. Leave perfection to higher powers
  3. Take a stand even with incomplete information and amid diverse views


  1. Understand what drives other people’s agendas, including what remains hidden
  2. Bring tough issues to the surface, even when it’s uncomfortable
  3. Assess risk tolerance and follow through to build the necessary support


  1. Encourage and exemplify honest, rigorous debriefs to extract lessons
  2. Shift course quickly if you realize you’re off track
  3. Celebrate both success and (well-intentioned) failures that provide insight

Many will find some real challenges in these suggested behaviors.  However long term survival, growth and success will only come to those who master these.

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