How Do Adaptive Leaders Think?

Raising the Bar: Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal With the Changing Face of War, by Don Vandergriff, is a book anyone who knows me has heard me speak of and highly recommend over the years. The copy I own is highlighted throughout and the information contained in this powerful little book fits right into the law enforcement profession. I was just going back through the book this morning and wanted to share with you a section from the book, How do adaptive leaders think? I think you will find the information quite useful and applicable to how we in law enforcement lead and how street cops handle themselves on the street.

"Starting in the 1970s, cognitive psychology began in earnest to question classical decision making model and started studying how experienced decision-makers made decisions in "real life" situations. The phrase "naturalistic decision-making" distinguished between this new approach to decision-making theory and the classical approach. while the classical approach studied decision-making under controlled conditions in an attempt to remove environmental and intangible factors, the new school sought to study decision-making under naturalistic conditions."

..."The second type of decision making model is the naturalistic or heuristic model.

Experience has much to do with this method of decision-making. there are three key steps inherent in heuristic decision-making: experience the situation in a changing context, recognize the pattern of the problem from personal knowledge and experience, and implement a solution. Although this is a commonly used decision-making approach, heuristic and naturalistic models for decision-making have only recently come into prominence in decision-making literature.

Adaptive leaders use the "rapid decision" or "intuitive decision-making" process. The formally recognized intuitive or recognized primed decision-making approach is simply called a "gut check" in the operating environment. It must be built through a large amount of experience and learning. adaptive leaders understand and use the "OODA LOOP" or John Boyd's theory of decision-making, which is a process that relies on experience to recognize key elements of a particular problem to arrive at an appropriate decision. The goal of the OODA loop is to determine and implement and appropriate solution that could result in success more quickly than you enemy.

Adaptive leaders understand "time criticality." in order to make decisions when time is critical, the decision maker places more emphasis on the intuitive decision-making process than one the analytical decision-making process. Adaptive leaders more readily use intuition, which is to know something without self-conscious apprehension or step-by-step reasoning. in many cases, intuition is directly related to trials and errors through living. There is also judgment in intuitive decision-making, which refers to the ability to match the situation to the first possible solution that is most likely to succeed. However, merely acting on the first solution that comes to mind does not require judgment.

Adaptive leaders also have experience with many problem-solving exercises. An adaptive leader's experience is an aggregate, or combination of what an individual has learned from the process of dealing with problems and making decisions in the course of an individuals career or life. An adaptive leader's education and training builds knowledge that in turn is enhanced by experience. this enables and adaptive leader's ability to carry out "pattern matching." This occurs when an adaptive leader sees similar factors in a current situation compared with a previous one.

The greater the experience that an adaptive leader has, the greater the intuitive decision-making power he or she will also possess. Experience equates to going through numerous problem solving scenarios and learning from them. it does not have to equate to time in terms of a career, but can be based upon how well a leader learns from each intense problem solving scenario they participate in, can reflect upon, then verify through research those aspects of their performance they questioned-this is learning.

In the past, it was hoped that the linear system would lead senior leaders to develop adaptability over a long career of experiences, and that they would then be able to apply lessons in times of crisis. In practice, however, the experiences in their career timeline were often not applicable or transferable to the latest evolution of conflict."

Why is this such an important topic you may ask? Developing adaptability or "how to think" versus the classical method inherent in law enforcement "what to think" is the main reason we should be training our culture. Developing leaders who crave developing their people and people who crave getting things done safely and effectively day in and day out. In my view adaptability is about true "decentralized control" with individuals who apply disciplined initiative while carrying out their responsibilities. we talk a lot about this in law enforcement. Isn't it time we started practicing it?

Stay Oriented!

Fred