Five critical skills you need to pivot: #4 Adaptability

By Jacqueline Allschwang
Raizcorp Guiding Quality Manager

One minute I think I am responsible for a strategic development project with a December 2020 deadline and have so much time. Fast forward one email later, one minute later, and priorities have shifted. That very same strategic objective is now business critical and urgent. And I think to myself, this is it, Jacqui, adapt or die!

“It’s not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”
Charles Darwin

As a skill, adaptability refers to the ability of a person to change direction, adopt a different approach or take decisive action to adjust to a shifting landscape and respond to new conditions. It encompasses being able to effect changes in a course of direction and action, smoothly and timeously, without any major setbacks.

A powerful self-leadership question that always helps me get more intentional during stressful times immediately pops into my mind: “What are the most valuable emotional states, skills and qualities I need right now to adapt to these newly emerging conditions?” I answer this question by making a list.

Emotional states

Now is not a good time to panic. What is required most is clear thinking, razor-sharp focus and steely determination, a desire and decision to roll up your sleeves, put your head down and get the job done – no matter what.

Everything you thought you knew before may no longer be valid. The destination to which you were headed may have just dissolved into nothingness. Your old dream may be dying or dead and your vision clouded. You may be floundering, treading water and struggling to stay afloat. But no matter the circumstances you find yourself in right now, adaptability means staying open, digging deep and practicing enthusiasm regardless of your background and skills. Enthusiasm requires a dogged refusal to place preconceived judgements on the challenge or presume that it’s something you won’t like or can’t handle.

Enthusiasm is a choice in perspective and attitude. A choice to keep looking for the silver linings. To resist and to fight reality just leads to more stress. By choosing to stay open, by seeing this as an adventure, you remain available to new learning and growth opportunities. I don’t know the destination of this journey but I choose to believe it will lead to an enriched, better-rounded, polished and strengthened me.

Appetite for risk taking and trust
Now is a time when trust in self is more important than ever. My manager has his hands full right now. While in the past I might have asked his permission, advice or input, I now need to think harder for myself. I need to be bolder and more decisive, and take some risks that I might not previously have taken. This is a time for stepping up, speaking up and standing out.

Vulnerability and openness
There are some days when the sheer weight and pressure of the task ahead becomes overwhelming and it seems difficult to contain my emotions. Sharing honestly with my team mates lets people know that I need help and support and, with this knowing, they step in whenever and however they can.


Set clear outcomes with definite timeframes and assign appropriate responsibilities to the right people. That said, it’s important to know who the right people are and assign tasks accordingly. There is no time to redo so this means spending more time up front to create clarity on exactly what is required. We don’t have the luxury of time for fixing up messes or reworking later.

Result orientation and problem solving
This requires a strong focus on solutions and results, together with a determination to remove any obstacles that arise in the process. Note: remember to do this one with kindness, care and compassion. People are human beings with needs, feelings and beating hearts. They are not machines. You want to keep them working together with you and with each other to achieve your desired result. Sometimes the biggest problem is how to get people to work together more efficiently in a streamlined way. Other times it is how we get people to apply their minds, step up and take more responsibility. Yet other times it is about seeing who needs support, what support they need and what is the best way to put that support in place.

This brings me to influence or connection with the team. Anyone in your organisation who might be able to offer information, support, assistance or resources is critical. Now is a time when working together collaboratively is more important than ever before. (Side note: it is amazing how much amazing technology there is out there that we can use to facilitate and enable this.) There is so much that we can’t control but how we navigate our relationships and interactions and how we use our available resources are two things that we absolutely can control. Now is a time for deep sensitivity and consideration, nurturing relationships and extra-mile support.

Boundary setting
That being said, it is important to maintain strong boundaries with clear accountability and an unwillingness to bend around certain values-based principles. The right thing to do is the right thing to do – no matter what the circumstances are. Integrity, authenticity, commitment and hard work, together with a few other core principles, are not open for discussion.

Personal qualities

This is about looking at people with soft eyes. A valuable perspective here is to trust that every person is doing the best they can based on who they are, their levels of inner resourcefulness and their resilience (for more on resilience, read my previous article in this series). It helps to know that all people want to feel valued and needed and to trust that they want to contribute, especially when they may feel out of control and powerless. While it is a time to stretch, challenge and direct people towards opportunities, proactive responsibility and self-leadership (which will be the subject of the final article in this series), this does need to be balanced with equal amounts of care and appreciation.

Sometimes it takes a crisis to reveal to you what your true purpose is. The veil is lifted and, all of a sudden, there is a clarity about what needs to happen, how it must happen and what your part is in the bigger picture. What is yours to do becomes crystal clear and, at the same time, so does what is not. This presents an opportunity to revisit and reflect on who you are, why you are here, who you are being called to serve and how you are going to serve. All of a sudden, the pieces and patterns of your life reorganise themselves; the dots are joined and you see clearly how life’s trials, tribulations and tests have been preparing you for this very moment. It is through these trials by fire that your strength is forged, your courageous heart moulded, your backbone infused with titanium and a diamond made.

Remember that I have just shared what was on my list with you. Your list may be unique and more than likely very different from mine. Make your own list now and think about why each state, skill or quality would be important to you, given your own personal circumstances, who you are and why you are here. Ask yourself some of these self-reflective questions:

  • What is the new environment in which I find myself?
  • What are the new conditions in this environment or circumstance?
  • What does this mean to me?
  • Which of the old ways will no longer serve and support me?
  • What new needs are emerging and what new problems are needing solutions?
  • What has to change?
  • What parts of myself, my company or my strategy may need to die away?
  • What could I do differently, better, more effectively or in a new way?
  • What new mindset or attitude will serve me best right now?
  • What new habits can and will I activate and cultivate?
  • What new actions do I need to take?
  • What can I do to ensure that these changes are sustained?