by Lourdes Coss, MPA, CPPO

Good leaders are adaptable.  Being adaptable in a time when there is so much uncertainty has been beneficial to many.  People that have developed this skill can pivot and adjust to whatever life throws at them. There’s been no time like the present when this skill has been more valuable.  In the last several months, the value of being adaptable has been revealed to us in all of our environments, work, home, social, and even health and spiritual life. 

The Pandemic forced us to pivot in many different aspects of our lives.  It has also, to an extent, sparked our creativity in even our most routine activities and the ones we took for granted. Grocery shopping, dining out, a stroll in the park, and family time have taken a new meaning in many lives.  We learned to appreciate the goodness of life, as we have seen its fragility flash in front of us. It has made us realize how quickly our lives can change.

We are more aware of the value of the little things in life.  The little things that we have discovered are not so small or insignificant.  We have come to realize that what we often refer to as “little things of life” are, in fact, the essential things that bring so much meaning to our lives, like moments with family and friends.  Many crave the in-person interaction when, in the past, we probably skipped an event because of the human interaction overload.  I think that we have reached the other extreme. We now crave human interaction.  

Despite the isolation and distancing, we immediately found a way to stay even more connected.  I think that I talk more with family, friends, and colleagues now than I had in the past.  Perhaps it is the fear of isolation and the need for human connection.  Thanks to the different platforms that rapidly scaled up, many of us were able to pivot quickly.  We found ways to stay connected and even develop friendships with people across the country that perhaps we would not have otherwise formed.

On the procurement front, my colleagues have found creative ways to continue to deliver the level of service that their resources permit.  In doing so, many have discovered that physical presence in a specific site is not a determining factor to effectiveness or productivity. It’s interesting how we can adapt when the situation forces us to.  The thought of telecommuting would have been rejected by most of the government organizations immediately.  It would have been one of those “dead on arrival” ideas that an ingenious person would have brought up in a meeting and immediately rejected by many.  Every argument has its time.  The difference is that absent the current Pandemic; the idea would have been a “nice to have” pie in the sky.  It would have taken much effort to get buy-in and get used to the concept of telecommuting. 

On the other hand, the power of choice is one of the most precious things that we have.  It is what makes us individuals.  Sometimes the power of choice works against us.  Because it allows us to remain stubborn to the current circumstances or the changing environment, it provides the easy out for our fear of change and the unknown.  As long as we can choose, we can choose to do nothing.  Choice and adaptability may seem to be on opposite sides, but I don’t see it that way.  You have the option to adapt to the demands of the environment.

What makes people adaptable? Let’s start with the fact that we are all different, and some adapt to change better than others.  Whether in a crisis or a situation with a less critical change, the fear of the unknown affects some people more than others.  We all have some of that fear. So, what can we do to become more adaptable?  I have some thoughts about that.

Adaptability requires awareness and intentional action.  It requires us to recognize that we can learn new things.  We can succeed under unique circumstances if we are willing and open to new and different thoughts about “how” we approach life and the events that it presents. I believe that there are at least three things that people can do to become more adaptable

  1. Elevate your awareness. Increase your awareness level to bring your thoughts from autopilot to the conscious level.  Sometimes we create patterns and habits that are reinforced by our environment.  We get comfortable and prefer to stay in that comfort zone.  Let’s take a moment to think and challenge our resistance to change. We may see the situation differently, not through the eyes of what’s comfortable but as an opportunity to expand our range of knowledge.  It will, of course, require the discomfort that comes with learning something new.
  2. Embrace the learning opportunity.  When we are open to new experiences and learning, there is a discomfort that comes with growth.  If we embrace learning, we will identify the feelings associated with the learning process.  As we become familiar with those feelings, we may be better able to cope knowing that those feelings are temporary.
  3. Become an advocate for change.  Advocating for change will help you be more open to taking risks. Taking some risk will open you to the opportunity to explore new ways of doing things.  When you encourage others to change, it helps you be more open to taking risks in unfamiliar areas.  The ability to take detours in your journey may bring you more opportunities, but you must be willing to take the risk.  

To sum up, adaptability is a necessary quality of a leader. We can plan for the future, but we cannot predict it.  We should remain flexible to the detours that we encounter in our journey in life, whatever that might be.  The one sure thing is change.  To the extent that we remain flexible and adaptable to whatever comes our way, we will be able to overcome any adversity or challenge.  We should see new circumstances as opportunities for the future.

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