Leadership Skill: Adaptation


In order to lead a team successfully, you need one vital leadership skill: the ability to adapt. Without the ability to adapt, you’re stuck, and when you’re stuck, there’s no where to lead to. There’s a misconception about being a leader: that the leader tells others what to do and they just do it  no matter whatever it is. But in today’s world, being a leader can be something as looked over as being the head of a household or the head bartender of a small bar staff. Every day we have a chance to be a leader and most people pass on it because they fear the responsibilities that come with leadership. But that’s a whole other article. While we’re talking leading though, I really recommend you pick up a copy of Seth Godin’s Tribes. Our entire team is reading it.  What this article does focus on, however, is once you’re a leader, how do you become a good leader? Good leadership is comprised of much more than a single skill.  But one thing that I have seen across the board is that the ability to adapt to your team’s needs, strengths and weaknesses creates the type of environment where people thrive. A friend of mine called me a few weeks ago asking me for advice. He’s partnered with a couple of other individuals who don’t carry as much weight as he does in their startup. He asked me how I thought he should approach them, knowing one is overly passive and the other is overly defensive.

“What do you want out of this conversation?” I asked. “I want them to pick up and help me. I can’t do all of this alone! But every time I ask them for help with a certain campaign, they tell me it’s a waste of time and they’re too busy for it. And to think we’re supposed to be considered ‘equal’. I can’t watch our startup die because they refuse to acknowledge the work I do and the work that needs to be done.”

The easy way out is to call them out on their slacking and say, “Hey, piece of shit, I’m not earning you a year’s salary while you play with yourself.” But see, my friend really wants to see his startup takeoff and succeed but he doesn’t want to see PMSed out bros get offended when their work ethic is questioned. So, I told him to sit back and make a plan. There’s no getting out of the partnership, so he needs to adapt to the situation and to his partners’ personalities and manipulate the situation to his favor. The key is figuring out what he needs to do to make them want to work. Not adapting and instead keeping my foot down firmly cost me a job I loved dearly and had devoted 6 years of my life to, all because I had let my pride silence my logic.

You Will Never Have the Ideal Team

No matter how long you’ve been heading departments, leading groups, or waiting tables, you will never have a perfect team. We are human, with different personality traits and character flaws and our team members aren’t necessarily people we would pick out of a bunch to voluntarily spend time with. You’ll get the slacker. You’ll get the ego-maniac. You’ll even get the guy who refuses to take orders from a woman. Yeah, that happened, too. 

Before You Lead You Must Sit Back and Watch

Some team members respond better to each other than they do to authority and when firing or replacing isn’t an option, you have to make due with what you have. Pair them up and lead them as a unit, rather than two separate individuals.

  • Got a slacker? Give him a deadline.
  • Got an ego-maniac and need something done? Make him think it was his idea, offer praise, and thank them.

And Don’t Get Adaptation Wrong

You’re not any less of a leader because you’re not stomping into a board room declaring the lay of the land. Adapting is intelligent, living in a tunnel, is not. As a leader, you’re meant to inspire and to guide your team toward collective success but life is more than what the team is meant to achieve – it’s a personal journey. As you lead, they learn. They learn about the topic, about each other and most importantly, about themselves. Take the time to analyze your team; to learn their strengths, their weaknesses, what makes them tick and what makes them work. Listen to what they need to learn and then, teach them. You’ll be surprised at what you can learn about yourself along the way.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Chiara Mazzucco

Chiara Mazzucco

Chiara is the Founder and CEO of Indie Chicks, Inc. She's a published author of The 9 Mirages of Love, and is working on her second book, But First, Me. You can find out more about her by visiting her website, or can email her to get in touch.

  1. Ah, this is great! Adaptability is such an important asset – something I’ve learned in my career thus far. I think inspiration is definitely key, as well. Being able to mold these two things together, knowing when to speak up (after analyzing the people and the situation, as you point out)… all works together in creating a leader. Thanks for these pointers!

  2. Oh, Chiara, I adore this article almost as much as I adore you. You teach me something every day, and I never thought of adaptation as a skill that is so closely interwoven in being an effective leadership. You’re such a natural at it.

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