Leaders are the ‘big-picture’ thinkers – the global thinkers. Often our vision is blurred by the immediate problems in our internal environment, that we lose sight of the ever-changing elements in our external environment that impact our organisation.

The current world that we find ourselves in requires us to adapt. In times of crisis the world of work changes and we need to follow suit before the changes catch up with us. Teams transform, jobs are redefined, technology changes and it is up to our leaders to adapt to these changes.

An adaptable leader is someone that is able to change their behaviour and remain flexible as they experiment with the opportunities they have been presented with.

Inflexible leaders create inflexible team members.

When leaders are unable to adapt to changes, it results in the stagnation of organisational functions and projects. This in turn derails and demotivates employee morale and performance.

Adaptation – how to lead your team during planned changes.

Bruce Rodgers, Chief Insights Officer at Forbes Media stated, “The only way to stay ahead is to continually adapt ways of thinking and corporate cultures”.

Organisations today are changing and adapting at a far greater pace than many can keep up with. New business models are developed, and novel strategies are created within a blink of an eye.

Leaders need to ensure that they are adapting accordingly to keep their organisations afloat.

Adaptable leaders are able to stay ahead of industry trends by ensuring they regularly read and engage with industry blogs, subscribe to relevant newsletters and maintain their virtual status through platforms such as LinkedIn.

Leaders are not only able to identify change but prompt and lead their team to embrace change. They accept uncertainty and use it as a tool to recognise opportunity.

7 Simple ways Leaders can adapt to their evolving environments:

  1. Understand how you react to change. Understanding yourself and how you react to change will influence the way you address the change with your team.
  2. Continually keep up to date with industry research and trending reports.
  3. Maintain engagement with relevant publications and influencers in your industry.
  4. Adopt new analytical systems to stay relevant. This includes creating a ‘compass’, which is a plan that navigates your actions in the right direction.
  5. Surround yourself with successful and smart individuals- individuals that understand the industry.
  6. Have a small group of advisors that provide different viewpoints to be considered. This allows for all avenues to be searched and for new paths to be travelled.
  7. Questions are often more important than having the right answer. Brainstorm and ask questions. Be curious.
  8. Embrace change. Make change something that ignites drive rather than fear within your team members.

Leaders understand that different challenges are going to require different reactions and actions from them. Leaders are almost like chameleons; their core stays the same to maintain psychological safety but there are able to transform, adapt and protect their organisation when there is a potential threat.

How to adapt to external changes that were not part of your plan?

Control is conditional.

Feeling in control of a situation heightens our psychological safety and drive. However, our plans often fail when we realise that we have no control over certain changes that occur around us.

From the minute you wake up, you are exposed to your external environment. You scroll through social media, watch the news, and listen to the radio. All of these platforms dictate your next move and send your mind into a spiral of thoughts egged on by your external environment.

We are often the products of our own environments. In that case, we need to be aware of the world around us. These external elements prompt us into action and become the driving force of our actions.

Adapting to a known change is a difficult task in itself. So how do leaders adapt to external changes that they never saw coming?

A prime example is COVID-19. No one planned for this pandemic and no one knows the full impact it is going to have on our organisations and business strategy in the future.

When leaders are stuck amidst uncertain times, the most important question that they need to ask is: How adaptable is my team? It is therefore vital that leaders acknowledge external cues and shift their outward focus inwards- to their teams.

Can my team manage a crisis? How will my team’s performance be affected?

According to Forbes, 92% of employees globally believe that it is vitally important for the CEO to respond to crises.

Leaders are therefore responsible for managing their own panic and fear as well as their teams. During uncertain times, employees may not be striving to do their best and may not be performing up to usual standards.

In times of crisis, we are naturally hardwired to think negatively. When positivity does not break that negative pattern, negativity tends to grow until it becomes unmanageable.

Leaders can use a few techniques to successfully navigate their way during unplanned events:

  1. Are your emotions in order? Your team looks to you to set the tone as a leader and when you panic so will your team. Keep your panic private and maintain a realistic outlook on the crisis. Positively keep your employees in check and provide detailed communication about the situation you find yourselves in. Showing vulnerability builds trust and respect.
  2. Give your team what they need: As a leader you should communicate in a simple and frequent manner when dealing with a crisis. New forms of technological communication may emerge such as using Skype, Teams and Zoom. Ensure that you check in on the emotional wellbeing and coping mechanisms your team members are adopting.
  3. Stay realistic: It is difficult to ensure that everything will be okay when your team is well aware of the devastation a crisis has left them in. Do not give false optimism but realistic optimism. Communicate the worse-case scenario and the best-case scenario and then land in the middle of what is most likely to happen. Plan for the middle ground and then provide steps for your team to navigate their way to staying as productive as possible during a crisis.
  4. Remain adaptable: Identify what strategies and tools you currently have in place to elicit flexibility and high performance. Re-evaluate if necessary. Communicate the responsibilities of your team members and ensure that each individual is coping with the change. Provide your team with an overview of the organisation in terms of each individuals responsibility, teams responsibility and the organisations responsibility during this time.
  5. Empathy is vital: It is wise to show your empathetic side with your team before plans are made. We are all human and your team is likely to get behind you if they feel they can trust you. Provide support for your team as you are the foundation, they are relying on you to keep everything stable.
  6. Empower your team: Always encourage your team to provide empowerment where you can. Normalise getting help and asking for assistance in your team.
  7. Build team resilience: One of the most important things to do during a crisis is to enhance your team’s resilience. Crises are bound to occur and setting your team up for success during uncertain times is probably the most essential thing you can do as a leader. You can build resilient team members by celebrating the positive achievements during times of crisis as well as developing a sense of community. This can be done by implementing time for your team to really discuss their thoughts and feelings around the crisis that they find themselves in.

How will team adaptability look like in the future?

How will the future of work look like?

No one knows what the future will hold. Even the most futuristic leaders can not predict certain changes that will happen to their industry and the world around them.

CMO by Adobe, conducted an experiment on current industry thought leaders to determine how the world of work is going to transform in the future. Here are some of the noteworthy insights:

  • Bear in mind the differences of generations that make up the workforce. How will different generations change your leadership approach?
  • Concepts like emotional intelligence, ability to adapt, empathy, innovative problem-solving and a heightened sense of curiosity will be important for future jobs.
  • Organisational culture and employee experience are becoming more important than ever. Think about the ways in which you can enhance your employees experience by taking factors such as engagement and motivation into consideration.
  • Organisational structures are breaking away from the traditional hierarchical structure to one that is flat and collaborative. This is the future direction of organisational structuring. Small efficient teams characterised by heightened levels of problem solving and close-knit relationships are becoming important.

Crises like COVID-19 have challenged organisations. A crisis like this surely prompts us to think about the future of work. Not even the most experienced leaders and CEO’s can predict the future of work in organisations.

One thing that is certain to remain constant- is change. Building resilient and adaptable employees are the biggest hope for navigating our way through uncertain times.

Sources:

Center for Creative Leadership. (n,d). Adapting to Change Requires Flexibility. Retrieved from https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/adaptability-1-idea-3-facts-5-tips/.

CMO. By Adobe. (n,d). What Will The Future Of Work Look Like? Retrieved from https://cmo.adobe.com/articles/2018/6/cwtk-what-will-the-work-place-of-the-future-look-like.html#gs.5a59na.

Dana Manciagli. (2016). 4 biggest challenges facing business leaders today. Retrieved from https://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/how-to/growth-strategies/2016/04/4-biggest-challenges-facing-business-leaders-today.html.

Forbes. (2017). Business Environment Demands That Leaders Change How They Think and Act, Says Forbes Insights Study. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbespr/2017/01/25/business-environment-demands-that-leaders-change-how-they-think-and-act-says-forbes-insights-study/#3186e7cf2ca3.

Forbes. (2017). How Leaders Can Adapt To A Environment Of Change. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2017/10/12/how-leaders-can-adapt-to-an-environment-of-change/#7b717a926d20.

Forbes. (2020). The Leader’s Guide To Managing COVID-19 Panic. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/janbruce/2020/03/05/the-leaders-guide-to-managing-covid-19-panic/#2cb64ef159ea.

John Hall. (2016). 7 Ways to Identify and Evolve With Industry Trends. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/john-hall/7-ways-to-identify-and-evolve-with-industry-trends.html.

McKinsey & Company. (2020). A leader’s guide: Communicating with teams, stakeholders, and communities during COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/Business%20Functions/Organization/Our%20Insights/A%20leaders%20guide%20Communicating%20with%20teams%20stakeholders%20and%20communities%20during%20COVID%2019?cid=other-eml-alt-mip-mck&hlkid=5a01c2f4b2644aed95d2983b2a92e16c&hctky=3052138&hdpid=5b1ae120-d0c4-46ff-81a4-840e6ea42d11.

Melissa Chu. (2017). Why Your Environment is the Biggest Factor in Changing your life. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/melissa-chu/its-possible-to-design-your-environment-to-help-yo.html.

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