In the continuing series of our 12 Key Leadership Competencies, we present Adaptability as a leader’s capacity to excel in the face of change, and to inspire action and adaptability in their teams so that unpredictability is better managed.
At the outset, let’s take a moment to make an important distinction. Adapting is not the same as conforming. In the words of John F. Kennedy “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” In the context of this discussion, adaptability is about overcoming obstacles to move onward and upward. Conformity is more about maintaining the status quo.
The definition that we at Proven Leaders Pipeline have developed for Adaptability as a leadership competency is as follows:
Demonstrates the ability to effectively shift course when external influences impact an initial plan, condition or situation. Sees beyond the “tried and true”, and avoids staying in a comfort zone and applying singular solutions to changing circumstances. Learns continuously and leverages strengths of team members to maximize opportunities emerging from a changed landscape.
You won’t get too many arguments if you say that the pace of change seems to have quickened in the last decade. Technology has made information available to the point of being overwhelming. Our kids grow up faster; new electronics gadgets are on the market soon after taking your “old” ones out of the box; and a multitude of forums are available to distribute and vet new ideas in the blink of an eye.
But despite all of the change that goes on around us, our natural, biologically influenced tendencies are to address things in a manner that brought us success in the past. The “old way” may ultimately work, but the question is, will it be efficient and competitive enough?
Warren Bennis said, “Individual adaptability is absolutely critical…it requires a deliberate awareness of the many inflection points that are pressing you at any moment. It takes a hardiness in attitude that allows you to face challenges and adapt all of it in a way that results in alignment.”
Perhaps more simply put, an effective leader must make a conscious effort to understand new dynamics, and learn and apply new solutions that will work in one’s environment. There’s an old saying, “doing what you’ve always done will get you what you’ve always gotten.” We think it can be modified in the current climate of change to say, “doing what you’ve always done will get you less than what you’ve always gotten.”
Adaptability is also necessary if one wishes to achieve positions of greater responsibility, authority and stature. The increased visibility in those roles requires changes in behaviors. As Marshall Goldsmith says, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There“.
While it may sometimes seem impossible to keep up with change, keep up we must. The key to being successful at it, though, is to be adept at figuring out what is fad and what will endure. In other words, make certain that your finite amount of energy goes into the things that will be most productive. So adaptability is not just about change, it’s about changing intelligently.
It’s also important to keep in mind that adaptability is crucial on a number of fronts…technological, organizational culture, global culture, individual personalities and so on.
Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey developed their Situational Leadership concept on the basis of adaptability. It posits that there is no single “best” style of leadership. The most successful leaders adapt their leadership style to the abilities and needs of the individuals or groups they are leading. For example, if a team is comprised of people from different parts of the globe, knowing cultural influences is key to understanding how to extract the most from each team member.
It’s safe to say that leaders need an acute sense of awareness of trends and an ability to see around corners to stay competitive. We think the best leaders proactively make the necessary changes in their approach to stay ahead of the curve. But don’t take our word for it. As Jack Welch said, “Change before you have to.”
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Do you want to see if you are strong in adaptability, as well as our other Key Competencies? Take our assessment and learn if this is a strength or an area for development. In either case, you will also receive some tips and suggestions to enhance this leadership competency. Visit our website at www.proven-leaders.com and click on Take the Assessment.