Being an Adaptable Leader

In my opinion, one of the primary qualities of a leader is adaptability.  For me, adaptability is the ability to change to fit circumstances.  Now, definitely, there are some things that need to be done “by the book”, but leading people effectively is not about sticking to a script.  Whether you’re in a formal or informal leadership position, the need for adaptability is real!

Lack of adaptability often rears its head when there is a change in leadership or composition of work groups.  A new manager or employee comes on board in an area that has been constant for many years and he/she may start to ask “why” things are done a certain way.  Often, this leads to some temporary discomfort within the group.  Members often take these questions personally and perceive them as questioning “my” ability, when in fact he/she may simply be trying to better understand the process.  Alternatively, he/she may be far enough removed from the process to have a different approach.

What are some common symptoms when leaders don’t exhibit adaptability?

  1. Creativity suffers :
    We can’t all be great at everything!  We need infusions of new ideas and we need people with strengths in particular areas to WANT to put those skills to good use.
  2. Frustrations among team members rise:
    Team members need to feel like they’re part of the team to be effective employees.  They need to do this without fear of being left out of the group due to lack of conformity.
  3. Quality of work suffers:
    Engaged team members supported by the group are more productive and contribute more in a positive work environment

How do I know if I’m adaptable?

This is, admittedly, a tough question to answer.  As a first step, take a look at your work and personal habits.  Do you:

  1. Focus frequently on getting others involved in what you enjoy doing?
  2. Refer frequently to past experiences when making decisions on new tasks?
  3. Look back at what the culture of your group or organization was in the past when making decisions for the future?

If so, now might be a good time to make a conscious effort to move toward being more adaptable.  You can start with some basics:

  1. Ask different and more open ended questions.  Look for others opinions and preferences and look for ways to make their ideas work.
  2. Look at the bigger picture.  Instead of looking at just the impact of the project or decision on your workload, consider how it will affect the entire organization.  How can you move the process forward in a positive direction?
  3. Experiment and respect multiple viewpoints.  No, by accept I don’t mean you have to personally accept them.  But you will take your team farther by allowing discussions to take place and looking for ways to include the ideas of others in your projects.

In short, being an adaptable leader is being willing to change.  No, I’m not talking about sacrificing your personal value or beliefs.  But by learning to be an adaptable leader wherever you’re at in your career, you’ll be able to reach your end goals while seeing challenges and unforeseen issues as opportunities for you AND your team.

Cris Richer
Manager of Human Resources
Diamond North Credit Union

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