Mastering Adaptability: 5 Tips to Achieving Success in Leadership


Adaptability: 5 ways to build this essential skill for business and leadership survival.

Did you know YouTube was originally created as a dating site? Neither did I until recently. The founders hoped people would upload videos of themselves talking about what they look for in an ideal partner. It didn’t work. Bang went that idea.

Rather than give up on the whole idea, the founders looked for new uses of their technology and opened the platform up for people to upload any videos they liked. We can see the results of that decision today. If the founders hadn’t been able to adapt, they would have lost their business and their investment. This highlights the power of adaptability.

Nothing in life or business is static, so we need to be prepared for change. We need to adapt and innovate to survive in business, like YouTube. That change doesn’t just happen in the boardroom. It happens throughout the whole organisation and management of that change falls to you as leader.

How can you become more adaptable and lead your team in a new direction? Here are some important strategies you need to develop to build adaptability.

  1. Let go of the past.

Don’t let your thinking be limited by “the way it’s always been.” Open your mind to new possibilities. Let go of the things you can’t control and learn to enjoy the freedom you have to shape the future. Encourage your team to do the same. Ideas and innovation are born from considering new possibilities and, like YouTube, they will show you how to adapt to change. Unlearn to relearn.

  1. Build psychological safety.

Unless your people feel confident that they won’t dismissed or belittled for sharing new ideas, you can’t have true adaptability. “Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.” Have you ever participated in a brainstorming session? How long did it take before members started to shoot down the ideas put up by others? How long did it take before the ideas stopped flowing? It’s psychological safety that keeps the ideas coming and that’s critical to successful change.

  1. Don’t wait for answers from the top.

If you’re part of senior management, you will already know that no-one has all the answers. If you wait for someone else, you might be waiting a long time, particularly in a large organisation. Don’t just wait to be told what you’re allowed to do. Start thinking for yourself. The best ideas come from the people who do the work! Oh, and if you do come up with a great idea, make sure you tell people.

  1. Start small.

Change is scary for all of us whether we’re instigating it or dealing with the results. Like YouTube, change can be make or break. No wonder we’re nervous about it. Take small steps towards change until you and your team or business begin to feel comfortable with it. Any step you take is better than no step at all. Get it wrong and you’ll discover the right way. Get it right and you’re on a roll. Start saying “let’s consider this idea” instead of “no, that won’t work.” There’s merit in every idea if you look for it. Having adaptability means looking for a new way to achieve your goal and running with it.

  1. Build your comfort level.

As leader, you probably feel like you should have all the answers but that isn’t true. After all, which of us had all the answers when the pandemic caused havoc in our businesses? When you don’t know what to do, don’t panic. When you can’t give your people the answers they need, don’t let them panic. Change your mindset and get comfortable with uncertainty. Leaping into action may not bring the best results. Tap into your people, and instead of being the genius, become the genius maker.

Adaptable leaders are worth their weight in gold because they keep their teams focused, quell the panic of the unknown and encourage them to share ideas and observations.

Survival depends on the ability to adapt to change. The more adaptable you are, the faster you will respond to change, and that is the key to longevity and getting ahead of your competitors.

How well have you adapted to the changes we’re going through? If you feel your adaptability skills could be improved, talk to me about leadership coaching.

After all, your adaptability is your key to leadership survival.

Caroline Kennedy, author of Lead Beyond 2030: The Nine Skills You Need to Intensify Your Leadership Impact, is an accomplished former CEO, Award-Winning Executive Coach and global thought leader on business and leadership. She is a highly sought-after mentor and coach to top global executives. A respected keynote speaker and author, Caroline’s methods are neuroscience-based to achieve rapid development and growth.


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