Leadership Solutions from Read Solutions Group: Challenges in Adapting

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Challenges in Adapting

Recent posts have been exploring the seven behaviors most commonly seen in derailing a career. [Links connect to original publication in Read Solutions Group newsletter.]

From the final two career stallers – willingness to change and expecting results to be the key to success – with change present in my life, we’ll focus on the outcomes of resisting change and compromise, what might ensue during a change and how you can support yourself and others in change and compromise.

Let’s start with some definitions appropriate for this career staller, offered by www.dictionary.com:

To adapt is to adjust oneself to different conditions, environment, etc.

  • Change, the noun, means the supplanting of one thing by another.
  • To compromise is to settle difference by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands. An alternative definition for compromise used, as a noun, is an endangering, especially of reputation; exposure to danger, suspicion, etc.
  • Willingness is freedom from reluctance; readiness of the mind to do or forbear.

This staller appears in the person who seems to resist new programs, philosophies or even people. They may be seen as disagreeing inappropriately, vocally, or perhaps subversively with senior management. Conversely, Buckingham and Clifton in their book, Now, Discover Your Strengths define the person with a strength in adaptability as one who lives in the moment, seeing the future not as a fixed destination but one that is discovered a choice at a time. The adaptable person responds willingly to current demands, even if pulled from original plans.

With credit markets and currencies gyrating wildly, with companies turning overnight from sound financial institutions to those warranting a government bailout, an ever-increasing pace of change is a certainty. If so, then does adaptability become even more important – perhaps a key competency to develop? Adaptable behaviors will involve a readiness to explore change, openness to new ideas and the opinions of others, and skill at challenging ideas and people in constructive ways.

At the base is what Runde and Flanagan in Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader: How You and Your Organization Can Manage Conflict Effectively define as the passive-constructive behavior of “adapting”. They define adapting behavior as “staying flexible and trying to make the best out of situation”. This can range from taking a positive attitude, to making adjustments that will minimize unnecessary problems in the future. At the most skillful level, active-constructive conflict behaviors include “perspective taking” and “creating solutions”; that is, the ability to clearly understand the other person’s point of view and then to work with them to arrive at a resolution.

At the heart of change is conflict – conflict in perceptions of the “right way”, conflict in understanding, conflict in expected outcomes, conflicts in beliefs and knowledge, conflicts with prior experience. Increasing skills in conflict management becomes key in improving adaptability. When we are clearer on whether a change is worth it, and learn how to make the change, then we can move forward. Skillful conflict management enables an individual to dig into the why, to be clear on the impact, to explore what is known and what is not, and then to create a solution that skirts endangerment and allows for broader success.

Runde and Flanagan offer the following suggestions for these constructive conflict behaviors:

  • Listen to understand rather than debate
  • Practice active listening to ensure that you are clearly hearing the message
  • Never stop at one potential solution
  • Explore the viability of multiple options to gain greater understanding of the constraints
  • Gain agreement on the path forward and possible future decision points

Not only is change inevitable, the pace of change continues to accelerate. So, where does that leave the serenity prayer that suggests that you should “ask for the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference?” Perhaps the wisdom lies in knowing that the only thing in our lives over which we have control is ourselves. When we couple with that the wisdom that changing ourselves can be extraordinarily difficult, perhaps we’ll also find the courage and skill to willingly adapt to change.

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