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A case of adaptive leadership in Botswana, Africa

By Grace Jackson

When it comes to implementing organizational change, it’s important to understand the difference between technical challenges, which are usually easily fixed or repaired versus an adaptive challenge, which requires a shift in values, beliefs, and behavior.

Qualities of an adaptive leader

Managers who use an adaptive leadership approach assess why certain aspects of an organization aren’t working, and keep an open mind to various hidden possibilities for change. Adaptive leaders look for patterns when operations have been successful – there is not one prescriptive, or technical, answer.

Each person on a team brings diversity in skill, thought and perspective. An adaptive manager recognizes those various skills and mobilizes, motivates, organizes, orients, and focuses their team’s attention to what is important. The organization is then transitioned in that direction.

An example of adaptive leadership can be found in the Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana’s first national park. In an article in New York Times article entitled “The Wonder Women of Botswana Safari”, Hillary Richard describes how the first all-female safari guiding group in Botswana came into being. In the past, the career of guiding safaris consisted only of males, but all 17 guides in the Chobe Game Lodge are female.

According to Richard, in 2004 there were only ten female guides in Botswana; today, there are 50. What factors led to the decision to employ only female guides at the Chobe Game Lodge?

Safari managers seize opportunities to adapt

Initially the decision to make changes was based on economics: the cost of maintaining guide vehicles was less than when men drove. Managers at Chobe saw that when the drivers were female, less gas was used, repairs were needed less frequently, and vehicles lasted longer.

Richard also wrote that guides and non-guide staff at Chobe believe that the thrill of chasing wildlife is where male guides are strongest, while females take a less aggressive approach. During the lulls in which no animals are spotted or chased, women provide guests with detailed narratives and facts about the park. They spotted other wildlife that is often overlooked, such as birdlife, which led to unexpected discoveries and appreciation by the guests.

The hunt, according to Richard, is “often relaxed and meandering, resulting in pleasant surprises instead of a full-throttle chase.”

The transition to an all-female group was not always easy, yet one Chobe guide said that their male coworkers have been accepting and respectful. And more chefs are male, said the guide, so the flipping of gender roles is complete.

Technical challenges versus adaptive ones

The managers at Chobe took an adaptive leadership approach by realizing the differences between an easily fixed technical challenge, such as repairing guide vehicles only, versus an adaptive challenge, such as changing the hiring practices of the vehicles’ drivers. This outcome required a deep, organizational shift in their values, beliefs, and behavior that resulted not only in a more profitable bottom line, but also an enhanced experience for their guests during a safari at Chobe’s Game Lodge.

Interested in addressing your organization’s challenges head on and becoming an adaptive leader? Learn how you can graduate with a Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.), or visit our website to find what courses  are available. All of our classes are online and designed for the working professional. You can also request more information. Lead your team to the next level of achievement.