Leadership Adaptability

Leadership Adaptability

History will tell you that it is not the biggest or strongest companies [or people] that survive, it is those that adapt.” – Ed Rapp, Group President, Caterpillar

When interviewing at 2nd Watch, two of the co-founders focused heavily on my ability to adapt. They wanted to know: Could I work in ambiguity and under stress? Leaders must be able to move the business forward while dealing with uncertainties and unknowns. Could I rebound quickly from failure or perceived failure? Where there is no playbook, leaders must change their approach until they achieve the desired results. Could I calmly and capably deal with multiple demands and shifting priorities. Leaders must be agile to serve the changing needs of the market and people.

Change is constant and never-ending in business. In continuously changing environments, adaptability is key. Adaptability is the ability to change, both your thinking and behavior, to effectively adjust to new circumstances and situations. In the past, people could develop a skill or learn a process and repeat it each day to achieve success. Today, that is not enough. Organizations and people must continually learn, develop and adapt to constant change. When organizations and people are not adaptable, they underperform and ultimately fail.

For leaders, adaptability is critical. Adaptable leaders transform their businesses to meet current demands and refocus their organizations when markets and opportunities change. They accept and are willing to change, not their core values, but their tactics and execution plans. In 2005, the U.S. Army Research Institute for Behavioral and Social Sciences published “Training Adaptable Leaders.” In the paper, three categories of adaptability where identified. They included: interpersonal adaptability, mental adaptability and physical adaptability.

  • Interpersonal Adaptability – Adjusting what you say and do to create effective interactions with other people. Interpersonal adaptability also includes effectively adjusting to cultural differences.
  • Mental Adaptability – Adjusting how you think to increase effectiveness and problem-solving. Mental adaptability also includes dealing with change and uncertainty, handling emergencies and stress and learning new skills.
  • Physical Adaptability – Adjusting how you work to effectively perform in difficult or strenuous environments. PA can include operating in an open workspace, updating a presentation in an Uber or working in an office without AC.

It is not enough for leaders to be adaptable. They must develop adaptability within their organizations too. How can leaders develop adaptability? They can coach: 1) Adopting early. Rather than resisting change, be the first to embrace it. Commit to new  knowledge, skills, etc. and teach it to others. 2) Saying, yes. Stop when you find yourself feeling pessimistic about an initiative or rejecting a new idea. Be open to change. 3) Thinking different. The status quo tends to cause people to go through the motions. Keep your edge by thinking and acting differently with routine work.

Conformity is the opposite of adaptability. Conformity is the negative quality of adhering to and complying with boundaries and rules. Adaptability is the positive quality of proactively making adjustments while remaining headed in the right direction. Conformity is a weakness based upon fear of rejection. Adaptability is a strength based upon confidence in yourself. The key to adaptability is the willingness to change. The ability to accept change is key to both growth and success. Organizations and people that cannot change will not grow or succeed over the long-term.

All contents copyright © 2014, Josh Lowry. All rights reserved.


2 Responses to Leadership Adaptability

  1. Ken Bluudo says:

    Great post. Today, people must be ready to change or be left behind!


  2. Brandi Liebens says:

    I am finding adaptability to be is so important in the startup world. Great post.


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