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From Alpha to Adaptive: A New Breed of Leaders is Helping Organizations Navigate an Uncertain World


Since the time of the industrial revolution, the world has admired and celebrated alpha business leaders.

Independent and action-oriented, with high levels of expectation of both themselves and others and a sometimes-intimidating style of management, such leaders have written the playbook for corporate success. In fact, they became the playbook for corporate success. And indeed, most of the companies that are a household name today were started by an alpha leader.

But in terms of expectations of its leaders, the modern workforce is far more diverse today than it was even a decade ago. People no longer work just for money; they’re looking for growth and purpose. The shift that started with the Millennial workforce has become the norm with the arrival of Gen Z; their motivations are different from those of prior generations, and they want to be led—and to lead others—differently.

Over the past decade, in addition to the dramatic technology revolution, business leaders and their organizations have had to navigate geopolitical unrest, new hybrid work models, a global pandemic, and a volatile economy.

As leaders tackle emerging and complex challenges that have never existed before, those who don’t evolve must face the consequences of creative destruction. In fact, McKinsey predicts that by 2027, 75% of the companies listed on the S&P 500 will have disappeared.

So how can you avoid being one of those companies that disappear?

During moments of deep change and socioeconomic uncertainty, industries and enterprises that adapt quickly will see rapid growth. An astute leader knows that change is a constant; an adaptive leader bakes agility into the company at all levels to help it navigate change.

More than alpha leadership, adaptive leadership is the need of the hour.

Adaptive leadership isn’t a skill; it’s a mindset.

A leader who prefers a ‘command and control’ style of leadership has many strengths, but empathy, employee fulfillment and work-life balance, and high emotional intelligence are not typically among them. And these are the very skills that matter most today.

Adaptive leaders question and reassess their efficacy and output, tweaking and adjusting to meet evolving needs. This management style prioritizes individual resilience for collective progress, while focusing on growth and value. It enables people, shares successes and failures, and takes the entire workforce along, not just accommodating but also relying on individuals at every level of the organization.

By contrast, the traditional alpha leader may leave behind valuable people and crucial insights in their self-confidence and desire for control. They often surround themselves with others who speak and sound like they do, thus creating more alphas around them. This tendency often leads to one-dimensional growth that isn’t sustainable in the long term.

By nature, adaptive leaders want to be a force for good in several critical ways:

• They listen to all stakeholders and envision a shared future.

• They enlist others to reach common goals and build toward collaborative success.

• They experiment creatively and take bold actions to generate sustainable wins.

Being flexible and collaborative is a key attribute of adaptive leaders. Their growth mindset comes from being open to embracing new ways of working, tapping new styles of leadership, and introducing new technology. In this way, they command control without demanding it.

Thriving in complexity: Adaptive leadership wins

As an organization grows, it is often necessary to let go of redundant or inefficient processes that no longer serve the goals of the business. It’s important to know when to make space for new ideas, new efficiency, and new opportunities.

Most large companies today have a multigenerational workforce, all looking for different rewards from their employee and job. Uniting these different sets of people, and motivating them towards one goal isn’t easy. In addition to this intergenerational dynamic, there is a growing emphasis in the workforce on equity, work-life balance, flexible work culture, and more empathetic, authentic leaders.

For a business to be truly agile, it cannot be afraid to ask what it should keep and what it needs to change.

As a leader, it’s not enough to be individually adaptive. Your senior leaders and team heads will need to regularly evaluate their own direction and growth, explore new ideas, and act swiftly and boldly when needed. Your workforce must make space for every voice, collaborate, learn openly, and feel prepared for change.

To become truly agile, an organization needs the collective effort of its workforce. A leader’s role is to establish a pathway for success, select markers or goals that will measure progress, and empower each member to contribute to growth in their own unique way.

Learn how Wipro can help your organization accelerate digital transformation and build a more sustainable, resilient future.

Thierry Delaporte is CEO and Managing Director of Wipro.

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