Why adaptability is a critical leadership skill
A week hardly goes by without a report from a business school, consultancy, government or think-tank telling us that the future of work is changing. But how will that impact the world of work?
Our research team set out to discover an answer and found this change is driven by what are termed megatrends — the underlying forces shaping the world. Taking the megatrends as a starting point, we surveyed C-suite leaders and found that adaptability was one of the top five skills they felt they needed to succeed in the future.2
Whilst adaptability is something we can all benefit from in a changing world; it’s particularly critical for leaders. As leaders make the leap from being a supervisor to a middle manager and finally onto more senior positions, they will need to adapt their style. Leadership roles increase in complexity as you progress through an organisation, calling for more subtle influencing and persuading skills. And, as a leader’s seniority increases, they need to learn to empower, delegate, form strategic alliances and let go of some of the skills that enabled them to perform effectively in earlier leadership roles.
So, not only do leaders need to adapt as they move between roles in their career, they also need to flex constantly within any given role, as they lead their people and organisation in a continually changing world.
How to develop adaptability skills in your leaders
Whilst every leader’s journey to raising their adaptability is unique and different depending on their specific strengths and development areas, here are a few key tips which could help your leaders improve their adaptability skills in the workplace:
1. Be confident but open to improvement
Leaders need to become aware of any gaps between their actual performance and desired performance levels, as this insight will drive behaviour change. But self-awareness must be balanced with self-belief. Without it, increased awareness of development needs can be demotivating and disheartening. In contrast, leaders with very high levels of self-belief may dismiss or underestimate the need to act on development feedback.
2. Focus on improving not proving
Goal orientation describes whether, on approaching a task, you focus more on what you can learn from it, on performing well, or on avoiding failure. Although typically subconscious, our goal orientation has a strong impact on how much we will learn from our experiences. Leaders with a learning orientation tend to see challenges as opportunities to improve, and so are more accepting of failure as a necessary step towards better performance.