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  • Writer's pictureMJ

Adaptability: A Key to Successful Leadership

With a business environment that is constantly changing, arguably the most important skill a leader can possess is adaptability. It seems that there is constantly an obstacle that businesses need to overcome. Whether it be COVID-19, Russia’s war with Ukraine, rampant inflation, and many other issues, leaders constantly have to shift strategy and long-term plans. Not only do managers have to have a vision for the future, but also the ability to change and continue. And crippling crises are not the only way that companies face change. The market is constantly evolving and is more competitive than ever. Adaptability can come in many forms. One such example is flexibility in the workplace. Scoop’s Flex Report found that workplaces that allowed their employees to choose whether they worked in-person or remotely “outperformed their peers by 16 percentage points on 2020-2022 revenue growth on an industry-adjusted basis.” Flexibility can also apply to decision-making, go-to-market strategies, marketing plans, and many other important topics. The digital age has drastically increased consumer choice and intelligence. It seems like leadership is an impossible task. However, being able to move about business with a clear head cannot be understated. But what does being adaptable look like? There are numerous ways to be adaptable, which I will highlight below.


  1. Changing your decision-making style


When confronting a dilemma, we have to acknowledge two factors: our preferred decision-making style. Depending on who you ask, there is a wide range of archetypes and styles. One of my favorite opinions on the matter comes from Cheryl Strauss Einhorn. Einhorn has classified five types of problem solvers: Adventurers, Detectives, Thinkers, Listeners, and Visionaries. Some people prefer to follow their intuition, while others like to gather as much information as possible before making a choice. The amount of time people want to weigh the solutions can also differ significantly. Of course, there are various reasons why we tend to make decisions in a certain way. From the cultures we are raised in, to our work experience, the ways we have previously found success stick with us. However, falling back on old ways is not always the best option.


We must know which decision-making style we lean towards so that we can utilize the benefits of such a style and minimize the shortcomings. Agility also plays into this discussion, as it is best to utilize the style that best fits the situation. Not every situation calls for a gut reaction; nor do they call for long, deep analysis. It’s all about finding what works and doing it within a reasonable time. It is worth mentioning that information may not simply be statistics; but also what you learn from other people. This ties in nicely with our next topic.


2. Understanding your shortcomings and utilizing your resources


Nobody is perfect, nor do they have all the answers. Including managers. It is not always the easiest thing to admit that you don’t have the proper knowledge or understanding of a topic. But, having a bit of humility, and a connection with others in your organization will foster collaboration that is the key to understanding your market and their needs. Reaching out to your subordinates is often necessary to be fully informed. It takes some courage for a leader to move down the organizational chain, but it is necessary for the company to flourish.


Having a talent group that can provide the perspective of the stakeholders of your company is the greatest asset to a leader. Individuals from different backgrounds can inform you of what tactics will work for certain segments of the market, and which strategies will not. In a day and age where competition is at an all-time high, providing a product or service that is desirable to a wide range of people is a necessity.


Leveraging your team’s talent will allow you to shift your perspective and allow you to change your strategy before your competitors. Of course, all this information should be paired with the sensibilities of the leader. When your people give you an insight, you will need to decipher whether it is truly where the market is headed, or simply a fad. This skill takes time, and as you begin to understand your customers better, it will become much easier.


3. View everything through the lens of company culture


Everything a company does should build upon its culture. Whether it's a repetitive task such as cleaning the floors or figuring out what type of marketing campaign to launch, employees need to work intentionally. According to Gallup, companies with engaged workforces have a 21% higher profitability. When employees understand the goal that they are working towards, they are going to be willing to put in the extra effort to get over the top. Culture is also incredibly important for talent retention. Quantum Workplace found that 60% of disengaged engaged employees said they would leave their company for one with a better culture. Making sure that everyone is onboard, regardless of the direction you important, will lead to higher quality work and a healthier environment.


 In the best organizations, culture isn’t even something that is thought about - employees simply always act within their given guidelines. There may be different levels of onboarding required, but the best companies know how to integrate everyone. Accountability to a strong culture is also incredibly important. It may be costly to do so, but making sure employees are bought in and understand expectations is very much worthwhile.


With culture in mind, leadership needs to establish a direction, rather than a destination.  Knowing where you stand in the marketplace, and figuring out where you want to go, should be the goal of a business. While KPIs are very important to determine the health of a business, they should not be the goal but the method you will take to earn those metrics. Are you going to stand out through exciting new technology, excellent customer service, convenience and efficiency, etc.? Not setting your plans in stone allows you to pivot as you see fit.


Knowing you need direction, leaders need to key in on their culture to help set that direction. It does not make sense for an organization that encourages employees to hammer out meticulous details and spend tons of time crafting a product to be the low-cost provider. What were the goals of the company’s founders? In an ideal world, what sort of impact is the company making? These are the things you should be considering when setting a direction.


4. Continuously evaluate your company and learn from failure


The idea of direction goes along with continuing to analyze your company and a willingness to change. Not everything your company does will be a slam dunk. So, having the mindset going in that failure is inevitable, and there will be bumps along the road to your ultimate vision, is a necessity. Checking in with colleagues to see how their jobs have changed, and how customers are responding to a shift in protocol needs to be done frequently. Good managers have a pulse on how their employees are feeling. If things aren’t going so well, it is much better to admit a mistake than continue down a dangerous path. Viewing failure as an opportunity to grow and improve pushes companies forward. It is important to not fall into the trap of viewing failure as a threat to your job title or the trust of your coworkers. Having accountability and fixing a mistake is what allows companies to move to the top.


In a rapidly evolving business environment, adaptability and self-awareness are without a doubt crucial for managers. Nobody is perfect or able to solve all problems; however, those who know how to best use their resources end up finding success. So, next time you think you have everything planned out, think again. Because it’s all about how you are moving, not where you are going.

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