Never more so has adaptability as a skill been more important. This past year we have seen for ourselves what adaptability, and the lack of it, can mean to a business. The future of work is changing and the ability to change to fit new circumstances will be a critical skill for leaders and a key competency in their resilience toolbox.
Soft skills have taken centre stage in the realms of thought leadership, and rightly so. Adaptability is just one component of this skillset, which whilst we may have been doing it for years, has now been labelled and identified as one which will effect business-critical change. As we lean towards an agile business model it makes perfect sense that the ability to learn new skills and behaviours in response to changing circumstances will be much sought after. And the ability to do this in super quick time, the golden ticket.
A critical leadership skill
Adaptability is something that has been on job descriptions for many years, as businesses look for flexibility in their employees, an ability to respond well to circumstances even when not planned. It is a core skill for the leaders of today and tomorrow.
As leaders we are expected to rise to the occasion of new and unique situations, where there is no proven track record. We must do it quickly and we must trust our own judgement. We need to adapt within our role in order to steer our organisation and our people in an ever-changing world.
Adaptability is just one element of creating a resilient organisation, one which can recover from a change or crisis and come back stronger. I refer to a quote from the eminent Charles Darwin, who stated, back in the mid-1800s that It is not the strongest of the species which survives, nor the most intelligent, it is the one that is most adaptable to change. Some two hundred years later, it remains significant advice.
We are who we are. And we are not perfect. Before we can effect change of any form we need to take stock of who and where we currently are. Where are the gaps? Where are the strengths? And what is the desired end-product? This self-awareness will drive change. If you are aware of the gaps you can fill them. Without this level of self-awareness, you cannot understand and empathise with others, you cannot communicate effectively, and you cannot empower others to be the best version of themselves.
With self-awareness comes self-belief. A confident leader is inspiring to others and leads by example. Their self-belief brings out the best in others so trust your instincts. When you believe in a person, it tends to be because they believe in themselves. Master the art of balancing your self-awareness and your self-belief and you will become much more effective as a leader.
How do you think? Do you focus on avoiding failure? On performance? Or what you can learn from any given situation? Progress cannot be made without risk. There is no point in doing something a certain way, just because that is the way it has always been done. Challenge that mentality.
Taking risks is a key element of adaptability. When people have the knowledge, confidence, means and ability to make decisions and/or mistakes, the benefits are endless. Mistakes or failures are only bad if you fail to learn from them. So, embrace all opportunities to learn, from mistakes, from others, from peers, from the world. People who are curious and stay current tend to be adaptable. So, go to that seminar, learn about new tech, connect with others and learn from them. A measured risk is an opportunity to improve, learn and grow.
Open your mind
If you open your mind to the possibilities, you are open to the thoughts and opinions of others. This cognitive diversity is essential in opening up your organisation to new perspectives, new solutions and new opportunities.
Open-mindedness means being receptive to a wide variety of ideas, arguments and information and it is essential for critical, rational thinking. It can give you fresh insights into the world and yourself and it can help you grow as a person through new experiences.
In order to foster open-mindedness, you have to be able to set aside your pre-existing ideas and judgements and it can be difficult, at times, to retrain your brain. Ask questions, fight the confirmation bias and give it a little time. Our brains are typically wired to go with what we know, what is safe, just acknowledging there are other perspectives will bring about change.
Effective leaders have a certain and unfaltering optimism. Thinking outside of the box for a unique solution or seeing a new business opportunity in the midst of a crisis, for example, is what makes you an effective leader. But don’t be blinded by the optimism. Yes, your team and your co-leaders need to buy into your path for the business, your belief but it needs to remain realistic, agile and open, acknowledging bumps along the way and learning every step of the way.
There is no doubt that those who can remain flexible and can adapt their thinking and behaviour to changing circumstances will be leading the organisations of the future. Now is the opportunity to nurture the skill and navigate the change.