Leadership: Adaptability – Adjusts to Circumstances

These are the characteristics of people who adjust well to circumstances:

  • flexibility in dealing with people with diverse work styles;
  • capability to be comfortable in a variety of circumstances;
  • ability to respond constructively to setbacks;
  • mindfulness to anticipate and plan for changing situations

Adaptability is one of the essential characteristics of people who have “stress resistance.” It is also an essential characteristic for successful managers. When circumstances change, managers must be constant in their commitment the mission and goals, but the methods for getting there must change. At a more immediate and day-to-day level, managers must pursue the organization’s mission and goals with a workforce having a broad range of differing work styles, through a variety of circumstances including setbacks and changing situations. One image that comes to mind is the captain of a ship who is able to keep the North Star in focus and stay on course while steering his ship on a stormy sea.

The two greatest obstacles to developing the flexibility to deal with people of diverse work styles are (1.) Judging and (2.) Lack of understanding. Understanding the different work styles makes it easier for a manager not to judge a work style as simply negative. Each work style has strengths and weaknesses. For example, some workers are very concrete, task-oriented, timely, and do exactly what they are told, but little more. Other workers have good ideas, understand their jobs, but need frequent reminders to stay on task or on time. The challenge to the manager is to utilize the strengths as much as possible, and to address the weaknesses in a constructive way. Having direct reports with different work styles should be a benefit. These differing styles will represent all of the strengths necessary for the team to do the job. Utilize the strengths.

Most people are not comfortable in every situation. Our capability to be comfortable lies in our ability to step back, evaluate the situation, and focus on our mission and task at hand. Prolonged hesitation to perform in an uncomfortable situation only leads to greater discomfort. In psychological terms managers need to “desensitize” themselves to uncomfortable situations (e.g., corrective discipline). Desensitization occurs when one identifies the difficult situation, takes it on as a challenge, practices a strategy or technique for success, and then performs the necessary action several times. Finally, celebrate your growth and success in a difficult situation.

The ability to respond constructively to setbacks can be found in the image of the ship’s captain. The captain appreciates calm seas and favorable winds, but accepts the reality of rough seas and contrary winds. The captain keeps the focus on navigating toward the North Star. The manager keeps the focus on navigating toward the mission and goals, and models confidence for the staff.

Some other techniques for developing adaptability are:

  • brainstorming a number of solutions to a problem;
  • identifying the worst thing that can happen if a difficult situation occurs and I goof;
  • reminding oneself that methods can change while the goal and mission are constant

For additional growth in developing adaptability:

  • Ask your supervisor for feedback on your adaptability in dealing with change;
  • Read Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson, M.D.;
  • Force yourself to see the positive opportunities in negative situations;
  • Take a course on diversity, including emphasis on gender, generation, ethnicity, generations.
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