14 Ways Leaders Can Learn To Adapt Quickly

Leaders that are unable to keep up in a changing business world are at risk of falling behind.

Newsweek Expert Forum members share industry insights.
Newsweek Expert Forum members share industry insights.

The business world moves fast, and companies that aren't able to keep up run the risk of falling behind. Building a sustainably successful company requires that leaders understand just how much the business can and will change over time.

While leaders are well aware that flexibility is a key part of doing business, it doesn't mean that they will be able to tap into that ability the moment they encounter a business challenge. To help, a panel of Newsweek Expert Forum members share strategies leaders can use to develop their ability to adapt quickly and ensure that flexibility is built into the foundation of their organizational culture.

1. Understand That Change Is Natural

Leaders can develop the ability to adapt quickly by understanding that change is a part of growth. If your mission is to grow your organization, you will need to constantly evaluate your processes and people to ensure there is forward motion. No matter how good you are, you can always be better. - LaKesha Womack, Womack Consulting Group

2. Prepare Before It's Necessary

The key to adapting quickly is to become capable of quick adaptation before it's necessary. Spend time each quarter with your leadership team talking about potential industry changes and opportunities. Maintain a culture of curiosity and learning from the top down. - Will Erlandson, Relevance.com

3. Develop a Personal Awareness

Leaders who adapt quickly have developed their own personal awareness. This means they sense the tension that comes with resistance and move appropriately based upon their intention. Applying principles from aikido, a martial art, this leader listens with all their senses and knows moving with rather than against is a win-win-win. - Karen Valencic, Spiral Impact

4. Learn to Manage Thoughts and Emotions

Deepen your emotional agility, which is your ability to consciously manage your thoughts and emotions that naturally arise during change. First, be open to your emotions—don't deny them. Separate yourself from them to see them as data, not who you are. Then, take an inventory of your beliefs and get to know your true values. Use them to guide you by taking intentional micro steps to change. - Loren Margolis, Training & Leadership Success LLC

5. Communicate More Effectively

Firstly, leaders need to communicate effectively to all vested parties, from employees to clients, to manage expectations and convey that change is coming consistently for the foreseeable future. The key to adapting quickly is to examine every touch point of the organization from supply to service and develop strategies for pivoting scenarios. Leaders realize that solutions lie in adaptable strategies. - Vipp Jaswal, VM Inc

6. Test Out Reversible Decisions

There are two categories of decisions: reversible ones and irreversible ones. If a decision is reversible and you're decently confident it will work, there's very little downside to trying it out instead of wasting time on excessive decision making, especially when unexpected complications will likely arise. This can massively increase flexibility and adaptability. - Noah Mitsuhashi, Portfolio Insider

7. Don't Fear Failure

Make quick decisions. It is okay to fail as long as you fail forward and fail fast. In addition, be good with change; in fact, consistently challenge the status quo. - Chris Heller, OJO Labs

8. Assume You Will Be Obsolete

Being able to adapt is an essential quality for business owners in today's world. I've been blessed in my lifetime to see things created like the internet, the iPhone, social media, Netflix, Amazon, Uber and bitcoin. All of these companies destroyed competitors that believed they were safe. My advice is to assume your business will become outdated; that way you always have your eyes on what's next. - Brian Meert, AdvertiseMint

9. Cultivate an Opportunity Mindset

Leaders who wish to develop their ability to adapt quickly need to cultivate an opportunity mindset. They need to be open to challenge and risk and recognize failure as a natural outcome of innovative thinking. An opportunity mindset allows leaders to recognize challenges and failures as stepping stones to success, as opportunities to learn from and become stronger because of them. - Kevin Vallely, The AIP Group

10. Stay Knowledgeable

Leaders can enhance their ability to adapt quickly by staying on top of business news and business trends and being well-read on business affairs. Small and what can sometimes appear to be insignificant business trends can blossom into a major business development later on. Leaders should also have regular conversations with their peers to discuss and share ideas. - Matt Drayton, Drayton Communications LLC

11. Never Get Too Comfortable

It's important to never get too comfortable with your position as an industry leader. If there is something the industry can do better, you need to identify and address it as quickly as possible before a disruptor beats you to it—or acquire a startup that is already providing a solution you have the capital to acquire and integrate. Industry leaders must always continue to think like startups. - April Margulies, Trust Relations

12. Be Open to New Thinking

Leaders shouldn't let their knowledge work against them. Always remain open to new thinking. Industry experts tend to become fixed in their thinking about how to do something or solve a challenge. This is when industry knowledge actually works against a leader. Remaining open-minded, innovative and willing to do things in a new and different way increases a leader's ability to adapt quickly. - Brendan P. Keegan, Merchants Fleet

13. Adapt to Fit the Changes

The ability to adapt quickly is founded on believing that the world is always dynamic and that what worked yesterday may not be right for today. If you see something in the environment has changed and it's having an impact, don't try to make it fit the current way of doing things. Instead, adapt what you do to fit the change. As an ex-Army officer, I know that's how the military adapts quickly, and business can do the same. - Chris Roebuck, Simply Success

14. Build Up Your Experiences

This comes down to experience. As you gain more experience as a leader, you begin to see things before they even happen. This is how you become proactive versus reactive. Identifying clues to what is about to shift and being able to pivot effectively to support that shift is a skill that you sharpen over time. - Chris Davis, Revcarto

The Newsweek Expert Forum is an invitation-only network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.
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