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[2014 | Keywords: Human Resources, Management, Leadership]

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.” – Clarence Darrow

We have all heard the saying that, “Only the adaptable survive,” meaning leaders need to be more adaptable and the world is changing faster than ever. It almost seems to be a foregone conclusion that successful business leaders need to be more adaptable than ever. However, that leaves us with an important question: “What exactly is adaptability?” And, “Can it be developed?”

Our definition of adaptability is, “Both the willingness and ability to successfully respond to change, obstacles and ambiguity.” Those are three things that leaders are currently facing daily.

Consider the following questions indicating the need for more adaptable leaders:

  • Is change occurring at a faster or slower rate in your dealership?
  • Is the marketplace becoming more or less complex?
  • Are customers and employees demanding more or less?
  • Is your dealership getting easier or harder to run?
  • Is the economic environment more or less volatile?

These are indicators that point to the need to develop better adaptability for yourself as a leader, for your management team and for your organization overall. Organizations with highly adaptable people can take advantage of change and leverage the change to become better, stronger and/or larger. Organizations and leaders with lower adaptability that are faced with the same types of change can often find themselves fighting for survival; work can become stressful and energy-draining instead of rewarding and fulfilling. Which response to change better describes you and your organization?

Our research with leaders indicates that less than 15 percent of leaders are highly adaptable. More specifically, we recently assessed the adaptability of more than 70 leaders in the farm equipment industry, and less than 5 percent of them rated themselves as highly adaptable.

The good news about adaptability is that it can be developed! Given its importance to our ongoing success, let’s take a look at what that means.

It is important to understand that adaptability is composed of two factors: flexibility and versatility. Flexibility is the willingness to effectively change your view, approach or position when appropriate. It is primarily the attitude which guides your response to the changes, obstacles and ambiguity you face.

Here’s a quick checklist of indicators of higher flexibility. Which of these describe you?

  • People describe me as someone willing to be open to other ideas, especially when they differ from my own.
  • I’m viewed as someone with a positive and forward-thinking attitude, even in stressful situations.
  • I’m someone who always seeks all-win solutions so everybody’s goals are met, not just mine.
  • I’m viewed by others as being highly cooperative and collaborative.
  • I’m open to change and I embrace it as an opportunity.

Flexibility is only half of the adaptability equation. Versatility is the other side of the adaptability coin. It takes more than just being willing to respond to change. Versatility is our actual ability to effectively change as required. Here’s a quick checklist of indicators of higher versatility. Which describe you?

  • I typically see market trends long before others.
  • I can handle a wide variety of situations quickly and successfully.
  • I have a demonstrated track record of successful risk-taking.
  • I act on new and different opportunities.
  • I have strong foresight about people, situations and trends.

The importance of being both flexible and versatile cannot be understated. A leader must be both willing and able to respond to change.

Interestingly, we have found that most leaders are stronger in one of these areas than the other. As a result, they are limiting their own effectiveness. A strength in one of the adaptability factors without being strong in the other leaves both the company’s success and one’s own personal success at risk. Leadership teams with lower adaptability are often stuck on the same issues, can’t resolve disagreements or differences of opinion. They spin their wheels, don’t address the real issues, and avoid simple problems, allowing them to grow to become major issues.

Now is the time to act on both individual and team adaptability. Times have been good for many in the farm equipment industry the last few years. There hasn’t been a strong need for adaptability because of the favorable marketplace. But as times change or become more unfavorable, adaptability quickly changes from a “nice-to-have” capability to a “must-have.” We all know that times will change – just ask the dinosaurs. And remember the wise advice from Peter Drucker who reminds us that, “The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different.”

When it comes to change, obstacles and ambiguity, what does your track record look like? Are you and your leadership team demonstrating the adaptability to be a RESPONSE-ABLE leader? If not, what are you going to do to improve your individual and team adaptability? Remember, change is inevitable, survival is optional.