If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it’s that adaptability is critical for leadership in uncertain times. Looking back, I’m quite amazed at how so many organizations pivoted in a very short period of time when they had to adjust to survive.
I love the commercial of a bike company that shifted its business model to offer virtual video demonstrations using the Microsoft Teams app with customers all over the world. The owners tell the story of how their business expanded quickly because they were no longer bound by a specific brick-and-mortar location. What could’ve been crushing for this business became an opportunity to expand their reach globally.
Not every business was able to easily adjust like this based on what they do, but many leaders who went virtual are saying they’re never going back to the way they did business prior to the pandemic. Only time will tell if this holds true, but the reality is that adaptability is a vital characteristic of leaders in today’s world.
How can you develop your adaptability “muscles” in order to adjust faster and better whenever the need arises? Consider the following five key actions:
1 – Always Be Prepared
When I was a teenager, I remember the youth leaders at our church teaching us to make decisions in advance so we would know how to respond when we found ourselves in various situations. They taught this because they knew we could either freeze up or make poor decisions at the moment, but if we thought about how to respond in advance, we could remain calm and think more clearly. The same is true in leadership. You don’t have to run “worst-case scenario” drills every day, but it helps to think through various situations to be prepared for critical moments. Think about how schools run practice emergency drills periodically in order to prepare the students for real threats. Determine “emergency drills” to do with your team so you’ll be more prepared for a variety of challenges.
2 – Expect Challenges Daily
No matter how solid your team and organization are, challenges will arise. In fact, leadership is needed most because of the inevitable challenges. Each day may not bring a crisis, but most have their moments of frustration. I once spoke with a leader who said he metaphorically walks around each day with two buckets in his hand – one with water to put out fires and one with gasoline to start them. I love that illustration because it’s so true! Some people are starting fires that need to be put out and addressed. Others need a fire lit under their seats in order to take action. Both are challenges that leaders must address.
3 – Respond, Don’t React
If you’ve done #1 above, this action is much easier. There is a fine line between responding and reacting. Responding carries with it a much calmer, thoughtful approach. Reacting can cause chaos. Think about first responders who show up on the scene of an emergency. You don’t see them running, but rather walking with intention. Why? Because if they run, they’ll be reacting based on adrenaline and be emotionally charged. This could lead to poor decision-making. But a calm, intentional pace allows them to assess and address the problem better. As a leader, if you run toward problems you’ll find yourself easily worked up and reacting. But if you slow your breathing and pace, giving yourself the space to assess things clearly, you’ll be able to respond intentionally.
4 – Enlist Your Team
While the buck may stop with you as the leader, you shouldn’t ignore the very people you’ve assembled to help solve problems. You will see challenges from only one perspective, but your team members will add additional perspectives to help you see things differently. This is extremely helpful in times of challenge or crisis. I’m continually amazed that when I look at projects one way I don’t see a solution, but when I shift my view even slightly I can see things differently to accomplish my goals. We recently had a new stove delivered to our home and I didn’t think our old one would fit through our door to be removed with the door on its hinges. However, when the delivery crew arrived, they simply said to turn it sideways and it would fit fine. While I felt a bit silly, it reminded me to look at things from multiple angles more intentionally. The same is true in leadership. Ask for different viewpoints. Even if you don’t like what you hear, you can determine the best next move with a well-rounded assessment.
5 – Take Action Even When Uncertain
At the end of the day, leaders can’t sit still even when they don’t know what to do next. We gain momentum through movement. It’s like trying to steer a parked car. You’ll exhaust yourself trying to come up with a perfect solution and waste precious time. However, when you start moving in any direction, you can make simple course corrections that lead to better outcomes. Don’t let “paralysis of analysis” set in. Be thoughtful about how to respond, but then do something. The best action may be to enlist your team or quickly draft possible solutions on paper to brainstorm. Whatever feels right to do, do it. The only true wrong action is inaction.
Imagine being able to confidently lead your team through chaotic, uncertain situations.
Imagine having a reputation for being a leader others can depend on when things to be falling apart all around you.
Imagine being looked to for guidance when challenges arise because you’ve built a reputation for success amidst difficulties.
This can be your reality when you implement these five key actions.
In my book, The Magnetic Leader, I teach about 18 essential actions that leaders should take if they want to attract high-quality team members and keep them engaged. If you want to become a leader people love to follow, CLICK HERE to learn more and to purchase your copy today!
Until next time…make today GREAT!