Make Adaptability One of Your Super Powers


 By Yvonne Milosevic

We’re living in the digital age, but that doesn’t mean the skills we’ll need to thrive professionally center on technology. Recent research in Harvard Business Review points to other qualities that matter more than digital literacy. Think squishier traits such as adaptability, emotional intelligence, and curiosity.

HBS Professor Linda Hill and colleagues Ann Le Cam, Sunand Menon, and Emily Tedards collected a boatload of data to understand the traits needed to helm the companies of tomorrow. They found a surprising emphasis on features we often think of as “soft” skills.

“71 percent of 1,500 executives we surveyed in more than 90 countries said that adaptability was the most important leadership quality in these times.”

Today we’re sharing some highlights from their research, but we invite you to take a deeper dive via the link above.

#1 Aim for Adaptability

“Leaders will be blindsided if they rely only on their past experience or expertise when making decisions,” the researchers warned. Stay open to new ideas, prepare to pivot as needed, and get comfortable with ambiguity.

“Even with more data and analytics, executives we talked to said that leaders still need to adopt holistic thinking and stay open to the unexpected,” they noted. “Perfectionist Type-A personalities must open their minds to a more experimental approach.”

#2 Build Trust

“Leaders must learn to exercise influence without relying on formal authority,” Hill and her colleagues explained. The top-down approach of the past will no longer cut it. An ideal environment is one where employees feel encouraged to share in decision-making.
Trust also requires collaborating with a diverse workforce, they noted. That means getting comfortable working “across functions, levels, geographies, and even organizational boundaries.”

#3 Stay Curious

“With so much changing around them, leaders must be explorers,” these researchers shared. Leaders should also stay humble and open to hearing from others outside of their bubble. 

Explorers adopt what one executive calls a “software mindset,” committing to continual “personal upgrades.”

Also, when it comes to failure, leaders need to rethink their mindset.  Hill and her colleagues said that “Eschewing opportunities just to avoid failure is perhaps the riskiest position of all in the digital economy.”

#4 Become Emotionally Engaged

We’ve discussed the value of tapping into emotions at work before, and these researchers echo that advice. “The leaders we talked to acknowledged just how complex and demanding work has become for employees in the digital era,” they revealed.
Now more than ever, managers may need to bolster their EQ to notice and respond to employee stress and burnout. As the pandemic lingers, showing empathy and encouraging authentic conversations at work will become vital.

“The best leaders show compassion by asking the right questions and actively listening,” the researchers explained, “even when the messages they receive reveal concern, skepticism, or fear.”

Focusing on these four areas—adaptability, curiosity, trust, and empathy—will prepare today’s professionals and equip them with the right mindset and skills to lead in the digital era.