Thursday, January 5, 2012

Key Leadership Qualities - Adaptability

I decided to expand upon some ideas presented in John Maxwell's book "The 360-Degree Leader." In the last chapter of the book he writes about the value of a 360 Degree leader. There are a number of qualities which Maxwell suggests these type of leaders have in common. Over the next few days I'm going to do a posting on each of them The first is this: Adaptability - Quickly Adjusts to Change.

It was Bill Gates who wrote: "In three years every product my company makes will be obsolete. The only question is whether we will make it obsolete or someone else will." It's a lesson that Jim Balsillie from RIM of Blackberry fame has been slow to pick up on. While other companies are trotting out new innovations that are wowing consumers, RIM is losing market share (and stock value) as they take their time. It's not that RIM is doing anything wrong - in fact, they may recover - it's just that they are giving the perception that they can't change fast enough.

It really doesn't matter in which field you find yourself, if you are unable to adapt in a rapidly changing competitive environment, you will be left behind. Conversely, adaptability is the ability to change (or be changed) to fit changed circumstances. Let's look at some truths about change that each of us should know.

Change is inevitable. Someone has said that the only constant is change. That is certainly true in the business world. Charles Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. patent office in 1899, famously said "everything that can be invented has been invented." Not so much. Recognizing that change is inevitable should change our perspective and our attitude.

A perspective that recognizes this truth allows us to prepare for the unforeseen and to avoid the success trap of resting on our laurels after victory. It keeps us pushing for a better way and investing in the future. An attitude that sees change as inevitable embraces it as a friend and enables us to become change agents, rather than victims. As Dwight Eisenhower said, "Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him."  

Early adapters usually win. I qualify this with a "usually" because there is a danger on the cutting edge. Pushing for change too soon can result in mistakes and failure. Failing to adapt quickly can also be fatal, however. Author Eric Hoffer made this profound statement: "In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." The key is to always be learning. Change is rarely about one idea; it is often about a convergence of ideas into a workable one. Succesful organizations will foster an atmosphere of creativity and embrace change.

People react to change differently. As Maxwell states in "The 360-Degree Leader," there are early adapters, middle adapters and late adapters. Early adapters "get it" quickly. They'll run with a new idea and see the value in it before most will. Middle adapters will grasp it once they have time to process it, while late adapters will sometimes only accept it once they realize it's inevitable.  

The key truth to take from all of this is the need for personal growth. I've met many people who believe that once they got the certificate, the office or the job that they had arrived. It doesn't take long until realities and circumstances change and, unless adjustments are made, they're left behind. If we're not careful, we can end up like the unfortunate ones who are "beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists."

How would you rate yourself on your adaptability? If you think this is a weakness, try something new. Take a course, read a book outside of your field, find a new mentor. We'll give the final word to Helen Keller: "Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing."  

Related Articles:
Great Ideas
Developing Great Habits
Are You Teachable?
The 8 Nations of Innovation - Rick Warren

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