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31 December 2023 - 7 minutes

Adaptive Leadership in Tech: Thriving in Rapidly Changing Environments

Becoming an adaptive leader is essential in the tech industry

Ironhack - Changing The Future of Tech Education


The tech world is evolving–and fast. And while we usually focus our efforts on employees and aspiring techies and what they need to know to get into tech and land their dream job, today we’re going to come at tech’s dizzying pace from another angle: tech leaders and their role in helping the advancements in the tech industry make a real difference. 

Tech leaders in such a fast-paced industry face quite the challenge: they must provide a supportive and educational work environment that nurtures and encourages development in their employees while staying up-to-date with the latest technologies and advances. This is quite the challenge and not one for the faint of heart; as more and more companies introduce tech-forward policies and incorporate tech practices into their day-to-day, even if they aren’t tech-related, they will need skilled tech professionals to meet their needs. 

In both tech and non-tech industries, however, leaders are faced with rapidly changing environments–which proves to be quite the challenge. In this article, we’ll dive into adaptive leadership, what it is, what tech leaders should focus on, and ways to improve leadership skills in the tech industry. Ready? Let’s dive right in. 

Leadership in Tech

Before we dive right into adaptive leadership, it’s important to understand the crucial role that leadership plays in the tech industry. On a surface level, tech leaders are responsible for their teams and as more and more tech teams expand to include a wide range of roles and responsibilities, these leaders must understand the role of each and know how to manage such a diverse team. 

Leaders in tech are crucial because:

  • They are frequently the go-between of the technical and non-technical staff: a tech leader’s role isn’t limited to just tech subjects; frequently, in fact, the team leader is responsible for communicating progress reports and updates to non-tech teams or stakeholders, meaning they’ll need to share this information in an easy-to-understand manner. 

  • They are responsible for staying up-to-date with the latest trends: as a team leader, tech leaders need to be aware of the latest updates and happenings in the sector so that they’re prepared to offer the best possible assistance and support to their teams. 

  • They must be familiar with many different specialities within tech: as a tech leader who’s responsible for an entire team of professionals, such as web developers, UX/UI designers, data analysts, and cybersecurity experts, these leaders must be familiar with each of these specialities, their roles, and their blockers to provide support when needed and have a good idea of the project’s process. 

As you can see, tech leaders have quite the challenge ahead of them. And that’s exactly why adaptive leadership plays such a crucial role in the quick changing tech sphere. 

What is Adaptive Leadership?

You might have heard of adaptive leadership already, but as it’s somewhat of a new concept, let’s review it to ensure you have a complete understanding of what it means. Adaptive leadership is a practical approach to leadership, identifying what’s important when being a leader and what can be left behind. This entails not just seeing and solving problems as they arise, but also being able to find the cause of the issue, prevent it in the future, evaluate risks, and save valuable time.

Adaptive leadership is set apart from other kinds of leadership because instead of simply focusing on solving a problem and moving on, it is open to feedback, making mistakes, and cultural shifts to ensure a similar problem doesn’t arise in the future. 

The key to adaptive leadership is openness and willingness to make changes to improve the organization as a whole. Speaking generally, adaptive leadership focuses on these three questions:

  • Is it worth maintaining, or can it be eliminated?: making tough decisions is a part of leadership and although it may seem impossible, adaptive leaders must be willing to part with aspects of the company or process that no longer make sense, such as outdated suppliers that simply don’t meet the company’s needs, even if it’s been a long term partnership. This decision is not made with a disrespect towards this long standing partnership; on the contrary, it’s made keeping the business’ current needs in mind. 

  • Is it worth the risk?: a huge part of adaptive leadership is evaluating risks and deciding which are worth taking. Therefore, adaptive leaders must be skilled at evaluating risks and knowing when to pull the plug if a risk isn’t working out as desired; mistakes and errors are completely understandable and to be expected in the corporate world, but adaptive leaders must be comfortable taking ownership of errors and finding solutions. 

  • Can it be tracked and assessed?: to know what’s working and what needs to be changed, adaptive leaders must only employ traceable methods that can be evaluated over time. As such a large part of adaptive leadership is ensuring that best practices are in place and making adjustments as needed, this crucial part of tracking progress cannot be left behind. 

Principles of adaptive leadership 

With a clear understanding of what adaptive leadership is, what it seeks to achieve, and how it differs from other forms of leadership, let’s cover the four main principles of adaptive leadership:

  • Emotional intelligence: leaders need to understand how others feel and adaptive leaders are no exception to that. As adaptive leadership frequently demands change, the leaders must understand how difficult change can be for employees and react properly to their emotions. And as you already know, employees that feel heard and respected perform better and improve productivity. 

  • Organizational justice: adaptive leadership involves lots of changes and plans and in order for both employees to feel respected and stakeholders to understand what’s going on, adaptive leaders must be open and fair in their practices, working completely off facts and not emotions. 

  • Innovative mindset: adaptive leaders have to be open to change and seeing what could come next; at the same time, they must be okay with failure and open to seeing what comes from trying something new, even if it fails. They must also be constantly checking out what’s new and looking for ways to implement these changes into their company.

  • Strong character: adaptive leadership isn’t for the weak and they must be willing to admit fault or failure when necessary, ready to pick up the pieces and try again. Ensuring that everyone understands what went wrong and that the problem was stopped as soon as possible helps build confidence in the leader. 

Becoming an Adaptive Leader 

As you can tell by now, adaptive leadership is all about being strong in your convictions and making the right decisions for the company, no matter how challenging it can be. And in such a fast-moving industry like tech where trying new things and adjusting the business plan accordingly is an absolute necessity, we’re not surprised you’re interested in finding out what becoming an adaptive leader is all about. 

It’s a process and one that will require you to focus on principles that may be foreign to you, but ones that will help your business advance. 

To become an adaptive leader and thrive in these fast-paced environments, prioritize the following in your leadership development. 

Being open to a growth mindset

You might have heard about growth mindsets, but what are they really? Good question–it’s the firm belief that your abilities and intelligence can be developed and improved through hard work and dedication. Why is this so important? Because adaptive leadership considers that you and your team will have to learn new skills over time and being open to this will help everyone implement changes and keep a positive attitude even as the company shifts focus.

Promoting flexibility 

Adaptive leadership champions itself on flexibility and you’ll have to be open to being flexible (as well as your team!) if you want to truly be an adaptive leader. Make sure your employees are ready to take on varied tasks and that they’re skilled in different areas; as you make decisions to improve your company, your team will be the force behind you that needs to quickly change gears to meet new needs. 

Encouraging innovation 

As an adaptive leader, you never know what the next big thing is when it comes to tech and encouraging your team to be innovative and think outside of the box, looking for the best solution to a problem, will help you find new ideas and embrace taking risks–both key characteristics of adaptive leadership. 

Championing open communication 

Things move fast in tech and your employees will want (and need) to know what the company vision is, what went wrong in your last test, and where you’re headed in the future. For some, adaptive leadership can seem a bit too volatile and fast-moving and being overly open and clear with your goals and why you’ve made a change or taken a risk helps the entire team feel valuable.

We’re not just focused on creating the next generation of techies at Ironhack–we also want to nurture the next generation of tech leaders, teaching them the skills they need to know to reach success in their field. 

If you’re interested in building your tech career and getting started with a bootcamp, you’re in the right place. Check out our courses and start your journey today. 

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