27 September 2023

Changing times: Essential skills for the new normal

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Sonia McDonald* says there are many qualities that define leadership, but now, more than ever, the one that is most sought after is adaptability.

COVID-19 has definitely tested our ability to embrace (or maybe not) change.

What about our ability to embrace and demonstrate adaptability?

When focusing on developing your expertise as a leader, there are many characteristics which you can list as a must-have skill for the role.

Passion perhaps?

Integrity, honesty, leading change, communication…but how about adaptability?

It is often left off the list and is one of the most underrated skills a good leader can possess.

Let’s explore some ways you can train yourself to be more adaptable.

To understand adaptability, you first must understand the meaning.

From a dictionary perspective it means to adjust oneself readily to different conditions — the keyword being ‘readily’.

While we can all adapt to change, it may not necessarily be a want or even a desire on our part.

Many leaders struggle with consistent change in a challenging environment.

However, in the changeable landscape of today, adaptability is a much sought after skill.

We all have the basic ability to adapt.

We learn these skills at a young age when we are introduced to different environments, sights and sounds.

As we age, we get set in our ways and lose the ability to adapt to new situations as easily.

We start to resist change, seeking the often well-trodden easier neural path.

The good news is we can be taught to adapt.

We can learn to take ourselves out of our comfort zones regardless of our level or position in the organisation.

It can help us with all aspects of our lives when sudden changes occur.

Soft skill training such as this is generally more difficult than learning a tangible skill, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done.

Like any muscle in our body it can be exercised, enabling us to look for new opportunities, to try out new things and be open to new ideas.

You can take on tasks to learn new skills or request new jobs in your regular workday to stretch your safety zone.

Being aware and staying alert to change should be at the forefront of your mind.

Reassess your current structures and always try to keep an open mind.

Maintaining a closed attitude will limit your ability to adapt in the long term.

Don’t be afraid to overturn your past decisions in favour of new ones.

It is about taking different paths and letting go of the fear of the unknown that often accompanies such a journey.

Adaptability is not just about a shift in our mindset; it also encompasses a behavioural and emotional change.

The emotional aspect can be the most difficult — changing those thought patterns from negative to positive.

It is not, by any means, an overnight change.

Having this resilience in your toolkit will enable you to stay ahead of the pack and think differently from other less pliable leaders.

Encouragement from all levels of the organisation to seek alternative methods of action is necessary to ensure that soft skills like this are enabled to their full potential.

Clear guidance from other mentors is also necessary.

In his article entitled 14 Signs of an Adaptable Person, Jeff Boss identifies the following traits of adaptable people.

They experiment, see opportunity where others see failures, they are resourceful, they think ahead, don’t whine, talk to themselves, and don’t blame others.

They also don’t claim fame, are curious, open their minds, see systems, and stay current.

If you do not possess these traits, there are ways you can train yourself to be more adaptable:

Change Your Thought Process

Let go of the ‘well, that’s the way we’ve always done it’ mentality.

While change can be truly scary and intimidating, embrace it and look at change as an opportunity to improve, learn, and grow.

It can open the door to creativity as well.

This also means, however, being open to the thoughts and opinions of others.

Force Yourself to Take Risks

Little progress is made without risk.

For some, the idea of risk is so adverse that they will run from it as fast as they can, but taking risks is key part of being adaptable.

Start small and to increase comfort, discuss risk-taking as part of team meetings, which can serve as a system of support.

Encourage Others to Be Open Minded

One of the best ways you can develop an open mind is to encourage others to do the same.

This creates a more open atmosphere in and around you, thereby further encouraging your open-mindedness and continuing the cycle.

It also serves as a means to shut down closed-minded thinking.

Embrace Learning

People who are curious and stay current tend to be adaptable.

This means you need to embrace learning.

Read up about new technologies in your sector, go to seminars, learn about process improvement, connect with colleagues who have this kind of vision.

Change and uncertainty is a part of everyday life and having the skills to navigate makes the handling of such issues so much easier.

So what can you do today that bears slightly off course from your standard routine?

Remember, it’s the small steps that can often make the biggest differences over time.

*Sonia McDonald is the Chief Executive and founder of Brisbane-based LeadershipHQ and McDonald Inc. She can be contacted at soniamcdonald.com.au.

This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

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