In a disruptive climate shaped by rapid digital transformation and economic volatility, what is the single most critical factor that determines an organization's resilience and performance? 

While robust supply chains and healthy cash reserves are essential, the true differentiator often lies in the quality of leadership. At Korn Ferry, we recognize that adaptable, agile leadership isn’t merely about steering through challenges—it’s about transforming these challenges into strategic opportunities.

When considering Leadership Development solutions, it is crucial that these programs are crafted to empower leaders at all levels not only to survive, but also to thrive amidst change. 

The Need for Adaptable Leadership

Adaptable leadership enables organizations to seize change as an opportunity to revolutionize their business. Without it, the impacts of disruptive change are immediate and tangible —plummeting performance, employee and customer attrition, and competitors drawing further ahead.  

There is a pressing urgency for adaptable leadership in an environment of relentless, disorienting change and complexity. Our survey revealed that nearly 66% of leaders listed agility and openness to change as critical, while over 33% stressed the need for organizational agility in a disrupted world. 76% of participants would prioritize adapting to ever-changing socio-political expectations, addressing the escalating climate crisis, and keeping up with technological advancements. But do they possess the skillset to do so?

Our research into the evolution of leadership found that change-ready leaders know how to collaborate across the business, embrace continuous learning, and listen to their employees. They make bold decisions when necessary, focusing on creating an environment of trust and resilience, and possess a clear vision for the future.

Examples of change-ready leadership in action can be found everywhere. Look at Apple as an example, moving quickly to shift its supply chains away from China, Intel and Google’s bold move to challenge Nvidia’s AI chip tech dominance, and online learning platform Duolingo pivoting rapidly to generative AI and GPT-4. At the other end of the spectrum, lessons can be gleaned from companies that lacked the boldness, speed, and adaptable leadership to survive change: Blockbuster, Blackberry, Kodak, and others.

What Characteristics Should Adaptable CEOs and Leaders Have?

Adaptable leaders move with speed and boldness. But what are the characteristics that enable them to do so? Our research suggests four key dimensions to change-readiness: clarity of purpose, learning agility, empathy and inclusivity, and agile leadership.  

Clarity of Purpose

Clarity of purpose is about foresight. 63% of the CEOs we assessed as successful Enterprise Leaders have a very clear, well-articulated strategic vision. 74% told us that having a genuine sense of mission and purpose was a vital trait—and it makes leaders more resilient, too. Change-ready leaders not only need a clear vision for the future; they must become visionaries within their organizations, inspiring and energizing others during uncertain times.

Learning Agility

There’s little point in developing change-readiness if the business is continually blindsided by changes it failed to see coming. Learning agility is vital for leaders to stay informed and get ahead of rapidly evolving trends, spot risks and opportunities, and act decisively before it’s too late. A hunger for continuous learning will help leaders extract key lessons from every experience and translate this knowledge into actionable insights. Right now, learning agility is proving an essential attribute for change-ready leaders who are moving fast to embrace Generative AI.

Empathy and Inclusivity

Being a leader in disruptive times also demands empathy, compassion, and understanding. It requires leaders to meet others where they are now with humility and authenticity. Conscious inclusion is promoted by bringing everyone to the table so they can listen, learn, and then lead the organization through change.

Agile Leadership

Finally, agile leadership means embracing new behaviors, skills, and approaches among leaders who must be quick to respond, resilient, and adaptable. Change-ready leaders should also be aware of their own attitude towards change and how it affects them. 76% of leaders told us that having the mental capacity to effectively manage whatever comes—like technological change or climate crisis—will be critical in the future. 

Ranging from immersive one-on-one executive coaching to self-directed, scalable development, our Leadership Development solutions are built to develop agile leaders who can navigate their teams through change. Our unique methodologies and frameworks can benchmark, assess, and develop these keys to adaptable leadership through solutions ranging from leadership accelerators to executive coaching, along with our dedicated solution for developing change-ready leaders.

Leadership Development

Leaders who can tap into the power of all

Six Degrees of Leadership for Navigating Disruption 

Taking a step back will help leaders consider their organization’s readiness to adapt to change. Can decision-makers navigate a potential crisis or disruption? How well and how rapidly did the organization respond to a recent crisis such as the pandemic, or to a technological disruption such as GenAI? It is important to consider the readiness of not just the senior leadership team, but leaders at every level of the organization including middle managers and first-timers.  

We have the expertise and solutions to help build organizational leadership adaptability. From deeply customized immersive experiences for CEOs to self-directed, scalable development for first-line managers and everything in between, we create powerful learning journeys and personalized coaching solutions. Our development journeys concentrate on the unique skills and tools needed to navigate crises and disruption. We tie assessment, development, and coaching together to deliver personalized journeys at scale, making for an easy learning experience for employees and their managers. 

For example, our Six Degrees of Leadership for a Challenging World is a Leadership U solution developed for mid-level managers, first-time managers, and high potentials. This learning framework directly targets leadership adaptability to help develop a pipeline of change-ready leaders with the following six “degrees”:  

  1. Anticipate: Foreseeing what lies ahead amid ambiguity and uncertainty. For example, a mid-level manager might anticipate the urgent need for Generative AI training in their team to remain relevant and competitive as the technology becomes more widely adopted.  
  2. Navigate: Course-correcting in real time to keep the organization on an even keel. A first-time manager, for example, will need to develop their powers of persuasion and influence to help overcome organizational inertia in the face of change.  
  3. Communication: Constantly connecting with others; the leader is both the messenger and the message. For example, a leader tasked with implementing a new set of organizational values should ensure that they not only communicate the reasons for the change but should lead through example and embody the change in their own behaviors.   
  4. Listen: Breaking down the organizational hierarchy to gather insights at all levels―especially viewpoints the leader doesn’t want to hear. This can be a significant mindset shift for leaders used to top-down managerial styles, but listening to others will enable course-correction by hearing directly from the people most impacted by the change.  
  5. Learn: Applying learning agility to “know what to do when you don’t know what to do”. Learning agility will help new leaders find their feet in their new roles faster, learning from their mistakes and adding value to the organization by getting ahead of trends.  
  6. Lead: Empowering others in a bottom-up culture that is more nimble, agile, innovative, and entrepreneurial than ever before. Leaders can build a resilient and change-ready team by making space for innovation, listening to feedback, empowering others to contribute, and creating an environment of psychological safety.  

Assess and Develop Your Adaptable Leadership Today

The current rapid pace of change is not just a blip—it’s the new business-as-usual, which is why adaptable leadership has moved from a desirable to critical skillset at every level. Organizations need to know if their leaders possess the agile traits that will make them motivated and successful, no matter what challenges lie ahead. 

Our integrated development journeys focus on the unique skills and tools needed for leaders facing uncertainty, ambiguity, and disruption. Starting with our Success Profiles, we enable organizations to understand “what good looks like”, assess where their leadership is now, make learning stick with personalized journeys, and make it easy to access and scale for leaders at every level. Talk to a Leadership & Professional Development expert today.

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