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Adaptability: The Leadership Survival Skill

 According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” 

I’ve surprised myself and my family during this time. As an extreme and busy extrovert, I’ve acclimated to what arguably, and out of necessity, has become a more introverted world.  The two introverts I live with (husband and daughter) have been in their element, loving a quieter world without social demands. Without face-to-face contact, in-person events and people energy to fill my extrovert void, they thought I would lose my mindInstead, I’ve accepted the constraints and have come to appreciate the gift of more time to reflect, read, meditate, learn and enjoy nature. I’ve set routines that make sticking to habits easier. And I’m grateful for the technology that keeps me connected to people and fuels my ability to work. I’ve adapted.  

Right now, our world is what it is. We can adapt and thrive, or we can resist and struggle. It’s complicated, but really a pretty simple choice. 

Volatility demands adaptability. As humans, we survive largely because we have the capacity to adapt. It lays the foundation for resilience that allows us to make it through even the most challenging times 

As 2020 unfolded, we had to adapt to our new realities: working remotely, the changing business modelsadopting new health protocols, transforming our home lives, accepting constraints, and even changing careers.   

As leaders, this uncertain time has also created the imperative to adapt the way we lead. In this environment, leaders will inevitably fail when we they’re too rigid, declarative, and too set on predetermined outcomes narrated inside their own heads. In a world where we can control our decisions, but cannot control the outcomes, we need to have heightened levels of self-awareness, be willing to change, and demonstrate professional pliability like never before. 

So how are we doing? Are we resisting imposed changes? Are we accepting them? Are we thriving within them?   

Some people will say that we all fear change, but that’s a dysfunctional belief; what we really fear is the uncertainty that change creates. Our capacity to change is endless – it is fear of not knowing the outcome that holds us back or sends us into chaos. In uncertainty, we want to be declarative about certainty. But as we highlighted in our blog on Claritythere is no certainty in today’s world. 

So what does it take to be a more adaptable leader and how can we embrace it? Here’s three things you can do right now to build this fluency:   

Let it Go 

Think of the trapeze artist who swings from bar to bar. The only way they can progress to the next bar is to let go of the bar behind them.  To move forward we need to let go: 

  • Let go of the things you can’t control. Focus on what you can control.  
  • Let go of what used to be Accept the present so we can build forward. 
  • Let go of the self-limiting belief that you can’t adapt Believe that you can get over your blockers that there are limited options, that you aren’t enough, or you have to be perfect and get it right. 
  • Let go of the need to always be comfortable. Get comfortable being uncomfortable because that’s where the learning is. 
  • Let go of the fear of uncertainty. Be committed in seeking clarity.  

By letting go, we open up new spaces that we can step into 

What do you need to let go of so you can move forward and adapt to the new reality?   

Adopt a Growth Mindset  

In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, author Carol Dweck introduces the concept of Fixed Mindset vs a Growth Mindset.  Fixed Mindset assumes our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful wayA Growth Mindset is a dynamic state where our most basic abilities can be developed, where we thrive on challengesee failure as a growth opportunity, and learning as an ongoing process to stretch our abilities.   

Neuroplasticity, which is our capacity to create new neural connections, learn, adapt and modify our behaviours, is available to us throughout our lifetime Our mindset is a blueprint for life and determines our relationship with success and failure. The good news is we can choose our mindset.   

How can you reframe a fixed belief you have about your circumstances?  

What’s one thing you can do this week to bring more of a Growth Mindset to your leadership?  

Take Small Risks  

If adaptability isn’t a top strength and you want to build it, you can start smallThose small changes or actions can build momentum and you just might find yourself being more adaptable in the future. Here’s 10 ways you can push slightly outside your comfort level:    

  1. If you hold back in meetings, speak up in your next one.  
  2. Shake up your morning routine one day this week with one new activity.  
  3. Order the special at the restaurant instead of pouring through the menu.  
  4. Initiate one conversation you’ve been avoiding.  
  5. Learn something this week about a topic you are curious about but know nothing about it   
  6. Share your early-stage audacious idea with a trusted colleague. 
  7. Turn on your camera when on Zoom for all meetings this week.  
  8. Set up 15 minute no agenda calls with your team members to learn what is on their minds. 
  9. This week say yes instead of no to an ask or invitation that comes your way.  
  10. Be intentional about using the words “yes and….” rather than “yes but…”  

What is one change you initially resisted that turned out well?  

What is one small risk you can take this week to flex your adaptability muscle?  

Our future demands flexibility, pliability and agility at all levels of the workforce hierarchyLeaders who are adaptable remain open to ideas, embrace ambiguity, shift focus when priorities changelead through the fear of uncertainty, and inspire others to do the same. It’s within us as human beings to adapt. All we need is the courage to embrace it.   

We offer The New Language of Leadership as a multi-component leadership program. Contact us at to learn more.

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