Adapting to change is a life skill and a leadership imperative. As a leader, you need to be flexible and adaptable, steering change and responding to change. You also can help others face and adapt to change, too.
Here are some basics:
Like it or not, leaders must adapt to succeed. Change is constant and inevitable. Leaders all over the world are facing change and complexity — new cultures, new jobs, new markets, new everything.
Research conducted by CCL has confirmed this imperative to adapt. According to the research, the most frequently cited success factor for North American managers was the ability to develop or adapt. Conversely, the inability to develop or adapt was the most frequently cited reason for career derailment among North American managers.
Adapting is more than coping. Adaptable people actually adjust to change, not just “get by.” They accept change, hone strategies for dealing with the unknown and shift their behavior to accommodate new situations and challenges.
Inflexible leaders limit the adaptability of others. New initiatives may be halted or stifled. Resistance to change may undermine critical projects or system-wide implementation. Employee enthusiasm, cooperation, morale and creativity are jeopardized, making it all the more difficult to run the business or organization.
Adaptable people show three kinds of flexibility. Adaptability is about having ready access to a range of behaviors that enable leaders to shift and experiment as things change.
- Cognitive flexibility — the ability to use different thinking strategies and mental frameworks.
- Emotional flexibility — the ability to vary one’s approach to dealing with emotions and those of others.
- Dispositional flexibility — the ability to remain optimistic and, at the same time, realistic.
Very adaptable people rate high in all three areas — and all three types of flexibility can be learned. CCL’s research confirms this three-part framework of adaptability (originally developed by Steve Zacarro of George Mason University).
Be curious. Ask lots of questions. Wonder, explore and consider before you judge and decide. Take the view that different is not right or wrong. It is just different.
Don’t get too attached to a single plan or strategy. Have Plans B and C at the ready.
Create support systems. Don’t go it alone. Look to mentors, friends, coaches, trusted peers, professional colleagues, family members and others to serve as your support system in times of change. Encourage employees to do the same.
Understand your own reaction to change. Leading change by example requires honesty and authenticity. You have to be clear about your own emotions and thoughts about changes, so you can be straightforward with others.
Immerse yourself in new environments and situations. Jump right in to meet the people and learn the ropes in a new situation. Do this when you are confronted by change — but get practice by joining activities, meeting new people and trying new things on a regular basis.