Adaptability is a crucial skill for leaders
As fast as the pace was in the 1980s, when I look back it seems slow by today’s standards. Life moves much faster now. The rate at which we must deal with change and uncertainty can seem insane.
For several years one of my organizations, the John Maxwell Team, has asked me to do short videos they post daily called Minute with Maxwell. My team will set me up in front of a camera and then give me a word or phrase, asking me to react to it or teach on it for a minute or so. It’s fun and the video gets posted online as a kind of mentoring moment. Recently, for one of these sessions, the phrase they gave me was fast forward. What immediately came to my mind were the words faster and shorter. Here’s what I mean.
The future seems to be coming at us faster than ever. It is not going to slow down. Would anybody seriously consider the idea that tomorrow will be at a slower pace than today? Technology, social media, and the rate of change will never allow that to happen. To go forward, we need to move faster. And as leaders, we need to stay ahead, we need to see more than others, and we need to see before others.
Traditionally, in athletic races, the first three finishers are recognized, and all three receive prizes. Today, outside of sports, it seems as though only winners get recognized and rewarded. As the saying goes, coming in second means you’re the first loser. That’s why speed and agility are so important.
Forward is also shorter. As a young leader, I was taught that to be effective in leading my organization, I should create a long-range plan of ten years, a medium-range plan of five years, and a short-range plan of two years. That seems absurd now. Today a long-range plan may be two years. Technology and innovation move so quickly that everything is going forward in a shorter time frame. As leaders, we can’t drag our feet or take too long making assessments. We have to change, reread our situation, and change again. And continue changing.
CONSIDER: In what ways do you feel the speed of life? How does it challenge you or negatively impact you?
How does a leader do more than just hang on and survive in such an environment? The key is to learn how to continually make leadershifts. What is a leadershift? It is an ability and willingness to make a leadership change that will positively enhance organizational and personal growth.
Educator and author Bruna Martinuzzi cited a study conducted by an organization called the Economist Intelligence Unit. It identified the top three leadership qualities that will be important in the years ahead: “the ability to motivate staff (35%); the ability to work well across cultures (34%); and the ability to facilitate change (32%).” All three of these qualities require adaptability. Martinuzzi likened this to the Chinese proverb that says that the wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water molds itself to the pitcher. Perhaps at no other time in recent history has adaptability been more important than it is now. “Adaptability—the ability to change (or to be changed) to fit new circumstances—is a crucial skill for leaders.”
A more recent study conducted by Right Management and published in The Flux Report made it clear that the need for adaptability is only increasing. They asserted that 91% of future recruiting in the workplace will be based on people’s ability to deal with change and uncertainty.
Good leaders adapt. They shift. They don’t remain static because they know the world around them does not remain static. This has always been true, but it’s never been more obvious than today, nor has the ability to change quickly been more important. Adaptable leaders who make leadershifts lean into uncertainty and deal with it head on. I like what Paul Karofsky, executive director emeritus of Northeastern University’s Center for Family Business, said about this, though he used the word ambiguity instead of uncertainty:
“Ambiguity may keep people up nights, but anyone seeking exquisite simplicity in his or her career ought to look for a non-leadership position. Leaders, by definition, have followers. Followers need direction. Direction requires decision-making. Decision-making requires consideration of options. And consideration of options involves dealing with uncertainty.”
If you want to be successful as a leader, you need to learn to become comfortable with uncertainty and make shifts continually. You need to be flexible and deal with uncertainty without losing focus. Leaders who leadershift must be like water. They have to be fluid. Water finds a way, then makes a way. First it changes with its circumstances. The environment dictates the change. But moving water is also forceful. It first moves around an object, but at the same time it begins moving the object. It can wear down solid rock over time. A seemingly small shift can make a big difference. Simple and obvious it may be. Trivial it is not.
The truth is this: every advance you make as a leader will require a leadershift that changes the way you think, act, and lead. If you want to be an effective leader, you must leadershift. You cannot be the same, think the same, and act the same if you hope to be successful in a world that does not remain the same.
As Malcolm Gladwell said, “That’s your responsibility as a person, as a human being—to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don’t contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you’re not thinking.”
Leadershifting moves us forward in the face of the natural temptation to be mentally rigid. It prompts us to become more innovative and get out of our comfort zones, question conventional wisdom, and welcome change. Every leadershift you make has the potential to make you a better leader.
- Excerpted from “Why Every Leader Needs to Leadershift,” lesson one of the Leadershift Workbook
How to Use this Workbook:
The term leadershift may be new to you, but the climate of change that demands it is not. As a leader, you already know that it takes more than staying the course to be successful. The key to not just surviving but to continual innovation, improvement, and influence is to learn how to leadershift. In the Leadershift Workbook, John Maxwell helps leaders make the changes the current fast-paced environment demands. In each of the lessons in this workbook, John shares the critical shifts he has personally made over the course of his long and successful leadership career. These leadershifts will change the way you think, act, and ultimately lead so you can be proactive and successful in an ever-changing world. Designed for use with the Leadershift book.