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Strive and thrive through adaptability

| March 23, 2021

by Lori Green

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Lori Green, Program Leader and Leadership Coach at MOR Associates.  Lori may be reached at [email protected].]
I’ve heard many people say they can’t wait until things get back to normal.  However, the reality is that change is constant.  We at MOR call it evolution.  Maybe instead of normal, many of us are really wanting to get back to the comfort of what we know.  The truth is that there are many forces that drive the need for change.  Change was happening prior to the pandemic and changes will continue to happen with the return to campus, longer-term remote and hybrid workers, as well as adapting to the needs of our institutions to ensure we provide an affordable and top-notch education for students. 
Adaptability is a core competency for a leader’s success.  This competency is becoming more important than any industry specific skill, as changes occur rapidly in the workplace and environment.  The good news is that like any other Emotional Intelligence competency, adaptability can be developed. 
Adaptability entails having the flexibility to handle change, balance multiple demands, and bring fresh ideas to new situations.  An adaptable leader can meet challenges as they arise and adjust strategy or style based on what is needed most. Daniel Goleman touches on the barriers to adaptability and what you can do:
Barriers to Adaptability

  1. Internally we create routines and habits for doing things that help us run on “auto-pilot” and become comfortable.  Many of our routines, like brushing our teeth or how we do our work, take little conscious thought.  Relying on these patterns too heavily may keep us unaware of our behavior and unable to choose better alternatives.  As Marshall Goldsmith says, “What got you here, will not get you there.”
  2. Externally we may have too little information about other options, or lack of experience in diverse settings.  Many leaders function with little feedback, or people that are willing to be candid with us.  This inhibits our ability to have enough information or skills to face changes and to be adaptable.
  3. Resistance to change rarely stops the change and has lasting consequences.  It slows down the process to implement a change and keeps the person stuck while others are moving on.  It leaves a lasting impression of someone that is not innovative or in line with the mission.

Breaking down these Internal and external barriers caused by our mental and emotional habits is critical to be able to shift to a fresh perspective or way of doing things.  3 Steps to breaking barriers to adaptability:

  1. Listen Inside.  Tap into your emotional self-awareness.  Pay attention to how you feel, be able to name and understand it, and determine if you are operating out of habit.  Does your routine really fit the current context?  Are you resisting the change vs. embracing the change?
  2. Look Outside.  Look beyond your current information.  Be curious about what other successful leaders do that are different, find different information sources and pay attention to data that contradicts your current thoughts.  We’ve heard the phrase “knowledge is power.”  Knowledge reduces stress and helps a person gain control of their thoughts, behaviors and decisions.
  3. Step Outside.  When change happens, or needs to happen, instead of trying to go back to “normal” step out of your comfort zone and seek out new experiences, opinions and environments.  Use your abilities to influence and be a part of the change. 

Jared Buckley says that future leaders can increase their speed of adaptability by improving supporting skills.  Here are a few of those supporting skills:

  1. Creativity and Innovation – Out of the box thinkers’ hurdle over obstacles with creativity.  They focus on the vision, not the obstacles.  An Imagineer from the Disney Corporation said that he doesn’t build robots, he makes people happy.  If the robot doesn’t make people happy then he rebuilds it until it does.  This involves creating technology that had never existed before.  He defined his job as challenging, fun and rewarding.
  2. Critical Thinking – Leaders will continue to run into various challenging situations.  The better the leader can process information and act on it, the more invaluable they become.
  3. Short Memory – Great leaders waste little time on the emotions from failure, arguments or mistakes.  Work through them immediately if you can, learn from them and move on.
  4. Gracious – The leader who can help themselves and others fail with grace, will get more respect and influence from others.
  5. Coachable – Adaptable leaders welcome coaching.  They welcome the input and help of others and seek it out if it doesn’t come to them.  This affords insight into the knowledge and experience of others that they don’t have within themselves.
  6. Growth mindset – Carol Dweck states you either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.  A fixed mindset prevents growth after failure.  A growth mindset seeks out opportunities to stretch their skills.  They learn and grow from their mistakes.
  7. Resilience – These leaders bounce back quickly.  If one option doesn’t work, then they move quickly to try different approaches that will move them forward toward results.  They don’t quit and learn how to maintain energy to get through roadblocks. 
  8. Emotional Regulation – This is key to adaptability.  A leader must maintain and control their emotions in complex situations to be successful.  They hold themselves accountable for their emotions and remain focused towards results.

As Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.  It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”  Today we’ve explored a large list of ways to improve our adaptability to change. 

What is one item listed above you can work on this week to enhance your adaptability?
I found much of this information in these articles and wanted to share if you’re interested in further exploring: