Earlier this winter I was driving on a two-lane highway when adaptability prevented a disaster. The weather conditions were compact snow and heavy fog. Visibility was approximately one hundred feet. My speed was appropriate for the conditions. In a split second, out of the fog, in oncoming traffic, a car was passing a semi-truck. The car was in my lane, causing both the semi and me to quickly move on to the shoulder to avoid a head-on collision. The car was in my lane as it passed my car (as I was on the shoulder of the highway). I attribute awareness and adapting quickly, (both my own and the semi-driver) to escaping a disaster. How easily I could have been distracted in my thoughts, changing a radio station, etc. with a very different outcome. Grateful!
Driving provides an excellent analysis for leadership agility and adaptability. It requires a continual conscious awareness of what is in front of us, as well as what is happening around us. Weather conditions, delays, detours, speed (ours as well as others), parked cars along neighborhood streets, distractions in our vehicles and space, require us to adjust and adapt to safely arrive at our destinations every day. Have you ever pulled into the parking lot at your place of work and thought, “How did I get here so quickly? Was I paying attention as I drove through the school zones? Did I completely stop at the stop signs along the way?” It’s as if you drove on autopilot. Driving on auto pilot can result in unfavorable outcomes, a traffic ticket, fender bender or worse. Just as safe driving demands constant awareness, adaptability and agility, effective leadership requires the same, every day, not just in a time of crisis.
What does it mean to be adaptable and agile? Adaptability is the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions. Agility is the ability to think and understand quickly, and the ability to move quickly and easily. Why are they important? Adaptability expands our capacity to handle change, no matter how serious it might be. You focus your energy on changing yourself from within, as opposed to wasting energy on trying to change circumstances. Adaptability empowers you to thrive regardless of the circumstances. The importance of agility is best expressed in the book, Leadership Agility (Joiner and Josephs, 2006), at its core, leadership agility is the ability to take “reflective action” — to step back from one’s current focus, gain a broader, deeper perspective, then refocus and take action that is informed by this larger perspective. Agile leadership is not just another tool in the leadership tool kit it is a leadership superpower. It is a fundamental capacity that affects how leaders express all of their knowledge, skills, abilities, passions, and values.
Two years ago the world was hit hard with the pandemic. COVID forced the world into instantly having to learn and embrace adaptability and agility. With the blitz of widespread illness, closures and mandates, many businesses came to a screeching halt. Every leader's agility and adaptability skills were put to the ultimate test.
As a product and service business, where 95% of our products and services were delivered in person, the message, “Think differently and change our product and service delivery model” was loud and clear. Our leader-shift was to adapt and act quickly or close the business. Because our staff is small, every person needed to be onboard to make the changes needed. As the leader it was critical to have, model and foster the mindset with my team that “We will weather this and thrive... not just survive” the epidemic. We adapted, initially offering different services, remotely and we dove into the work of researching, strategizing, and developing online leadership development solutions, launching the Go Beyond Leadership Institute in February 2021. As a business leader, modeling agility and adaptability paired with the mindset of continuing to refine these skills (self-development), inspires my team and provides hope and direction for our organization whether we are in calm waters or weathering a storm.
If you are looking to develop agility and adaptability skills for yourself or your people, our Leadership Institute offers relevant insights and strategies to help you and your people take your leadership to the next level.