Remember back in the day when managing change was all the rage? What we realized after a decades of perpetual whitewater was that you can’t really manage change because change never stops. What you can do, however, is build leaders’ capacity to adapt.
As the old industrial era models fade away, modern organizations must be nimble, flexible, and ever-evolving, which means leaders must be nimble, flexible, and ever-evolving.
“What should leaders adapt?” The answer is, of course, “everything.” Adapt our thinking, adapt our style, adapt our approach, adapt how we work with others, and adapt how we bring value to our organizations.
Chances are, you have a fairly stable set of strengths and weaknesses that have made you successful. Yet what made you successful in the past may not make you successful in the future (the same goes for organizations). Imagine a pitcher who is exceptional throwing one pitch; let’s say he has a 104 mile per hour fastball. In some situations, he is going to strike out batters left and right. In other situations, the batters are going to hit home run after home run.
In the course of a normal day, you may work on two or three different projects, you may sit through two or three different meetings, and you come into contact with a wide variety of people. What makes you successful—that stable set of strengths and weaknesses—makes you more effective in some settings than others. To grow our impact, we need more than one pitch.
If we want to be more effective, we have to consciously adapt to the situation and the needs of the people around us. If the situation calls for collaboration, we need the flexibility to collaborate. If people need us to make fast decisions, we need the ability to make fast decisions. By actively practicing different skill sets and approaches, even when we don’t get it perfectly right or it feels clunky and mechanical, we build our own capacity to adapt. We have to develop more than just one pitch and the ability to read a situation, and then throw the best pitch for the hitter and the conditions.
Some of you may ask: Won’t if feel fake and inauthentic if I change my approach? Perhaps. But what if you are transparent with others about what you are doing? “I know I need to collaborate more with the team, so even though it’s awkward for me, I wanted you to know I am trying something new.”
Part of why we feel fake is that we feel awkward as we develop new skills. Mastering any new skill takes practice. And practicing is part of our responsibility as a leader. Major league pitchers spend decades learning how to throw a variety of pitches. Why wouldn’t we leaders make the same effort, if we want to reach the peak of our potential?