Change Management


I want to share a gift with you – an introductory module to an Adaptive Leadership session which I conducted yesterday here in Singapore. If you are teaching or consulting on adaptive leadership the best way to do so is to link your sessions to current affairs. Today I was privileged to conduct a session on adaptive leadership with the top management of a ministry in an Asian country.

I racked my brains thinking about how I could make the session relevant and simple enough so that I engaged the participants right from the word go. And then it occurred to me that my case study was right in front of me in the story I have been watching unfold for the last three days.

I am British by birth and although I have lived in Singapore since 1990 I am still concerned for the wonderful country of my birth and how it is growing and developing. So as I prepared for the adaptive leadership session I decided that I should use what is happening now with the leadership of Boris Johnson as the new prime minister of the UK.

I want to share with you exactly what I did during the session, if you like it then please take my slides and words as a gift from me and use at your leisure. I would be grateful that, if you do use it, you name me as the copyright owner and that you use the approach with my permission. But please also adapt it, for although I have used the case of Boris Johnson there are of course many different cases around the world you could use, especially my friends across the pond. What I will give you is the verbatim version of what I said during the session and the response of the participants. I like to begin my sessions with a bang because the beginning of training sessions is often slowed down with personal introductions, history of the trainer, objectives of the session etc. etc. So from the beginning of my session today I dived straight in.

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Me: Greetings everyone. Now I know you are all keen observers of international affairs, so let me ask you what has been going on in the UK this week?

Participants: Brexit and a new Prime Minister

Me: Very true and here is a picture of Boris Johnson the new Prime Minister of UK on the day he became Prime Minister. As you look at him tell me some words that describe his qualities as a leader

Participants: that haircut, aggressive, confident, inflexible, do as I tell you style, belief in his persuasive skills

Me: Great – very true and I also think they are good words to describe him as he took over as UM PM.

Can anybody tell me what type of the week he just had and what happened in the last three days

Participants: he lost control of Parliament, he was defeated in his votes

Me: yes you’re absolutely right – he lost his first three parliamentary votes, and he lost control of his majority in the House of Commons.

But one other thing happened and you may not know about it because it happened today – Joe Johnson, who is Boris’ brother and a minister in his government resigned saying he could no longer balance family loyalty and national interest.

So not a good start for a new leader.

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Me: And here is the list which you quite rightly mention. However there is one thing you don’t mention and that is that when Boris was giving a speech in Yorkshire today a police woman almost fainted, and some national newscasters say that’s probably how many in Britain are feeling – faint.

So given what has happened to him in the last three days, does Boris need to change or adapt the qualities you said he had when you saw the picture of the day he became PM?

Participants: no he doesn’t need to adapt because good leaders stay consistent no matter what the circumstances, if he changes he will be seen as weak and too flexible. Leaders cannot change their values with every passing storm

Participants: he needs to be more flexible, he needs to adapt his style according to the new situation

Me: both responses hit the nail on the head. Good leadership is about knowing when to stay consistent and firm, and knowing when to change according to the changing circumstances. This is what adaptive leadership is all about, the ability to sense the situation and adapt your approach according to that situation or according to the person.

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Me: So here’s what it looks like to be Boris today. Gone is the brash, inflexible confidence. He looks lost and confused. Some would say he has clearly misunderstood the mood in both of his party and the country. So in this circumstance how should he practice adaptive leadership? What qualities should he adapt and what actions and policies should he adapt?

Participants: gave various answers and then I asked them: now that you understand adaptive leadership think of the current situation you face where you need to adapt I’m sure that with a partner.

It proved to be a good introductory session with participants saying they enjoyed:

  • Getting down to work immediately
  • Discussing a real current case to illustrate the topic
  • Real difference of oppinion in the room
  • Getting clear immediately what adaptive leadership looked like
  • applying the concept to their own leadership situation
  • A case that was from their specialism – i.e. government (had it been the private sector I would have used a different case).
  • The fun and liveliness of the session

So if you like what you see – please accept this as my gift to my fellow trainers and consultants.


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