Technical problems can be defined as matters that are dealt with from the perspective of past precedent. In other words, an issue may have occurred in a prior time period within an organization and been subsequently resolved using established and proven techniques, or be recurring events and resolved using known techniques. Adaptive problems on the other hand are relatively novel matters that do not necessarily fall within the bounds of current policy, rules, or procedures that guide the persons responsible for administering an outcome. New ways must be formulated and implemented in order to reach a satisfactory conclusion. Adaptive problems may also be categorized within the operational arena as falling within the purview of human relations and behavioral influencing while technical problems can be described as those activities concerning the management of material objects or services.
The leader in a situation requiring “adaptive leadership” (when “hearts and minds” must be convinced of a new course of action or trailblazing solution) can benefit from social science theories that are grounded in a sophisticated understanding of human psychology.
According to author and executive coach, Harrison Monarth’s book Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect like a CEO, Learning Theory, Dissonance Theory, and the Elaboration Likelihood Model provide principles with which leaders may influence followers to act in their own best interest and reach goals.
Learning theory includes the following three methods: With classical conditioning, verbal or written comments make the follower feel good about him or herself, which opens doors to receptivity when it comes to accomplishing tasks. Operant conditioning involves reinforcing a behavior with either positive or negative feedback to strengthen or weaken attitudes. Observational learning can be used with two or more individuals or within group settings where members view the reinforcement of someone else’s behavior, and as a result are emboldened to follow suit because they witness the success of their peers at the task.
Dissonance theory, is a strategic persuasion tool that creates cognitive tension in individuals when they are presented with information that is in conflict with their attitude and they have two choices: either reject the new information, or embrace it and change the attitude. For example when faced with an extreme political position, a leader may pretend to take an opposite and even more extreme political position to demonstrate the lack of logic in inflexible dogmas.
The Elaboration likelihood model covers two routes to persuasion of followers. The first is the “central route”, which focuses on attempts to alter behavior over the long-term by providing a substantively rich presentation filled with detail. This requires a captive audience that is willing to provide their full attention to the matter. The second is called the “peripheral route”, which focuses on attempts to gain the short-term acceptance of followers through such means as advertising and promotion that leverages the affinity or respect one has for the presenter. Monarth suggests that effective leaders use both routes simultaneously, by establishing credibility with the central route and increasing the chance of acceptance by establishing rapport through the peripheral route.
Regardless of the philosophy behind the leader’s attitude toward associates, or the social theories used to influence them, an open mindset to the viewpoints and abilities of others is always important.