Daily Archives: August 8, 2018

Adaptability, leadership and teams. RiverRhee Newsletter, July-August 2018

By Elisabeth Goodman, 8th August 2018

We like to build our bi-monthly newsletters around specific themes, inspired by recent events, or subjects we have come across.

Daniel Goleman et al’s booklet no.3 Adaptability, in his Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence seemed a fitting subject for this issue, which also includes details of our remaining scheduled courses for 2018

Adaptability_Daniel Goleman et al

Extract from Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence – 3: Adaptability, by Daniel Goleman et al, Key Step Media & More than Sound, 2017

Why is adaptability so important?

For the individual

As Goleman points out in his introduction to the subject, adaptability is the strongest predictor of an individual’s success in life and in their career (whatever the definition of success might be).  Apparently, adaptability tops all of the other 11 emotional or social competencies defined in the series for this effect.

We have been truly impressed by the quality of delegates that we have been getting on our training courses in recent months, and the extent to which they have demonstrated adaptability.  We encourage our delegates to develop action plans at the end of the courses.

These plans often demonstrate in-depth personal reflection and include intentions to adapt their behaviours and working practices.  Where we’ve had the opportunity to carry out follow-up coaching, the individuals have implemented the plans with very good results for themselves, their direct reports and their teams.

For the team

Adaptability is also an important competence for operational and project teams.  As Vanessa Druskat describes in her chapter on “Team and Adaptability”, change is a constant factor for teams.

They need to be nimble and respond to changes in remit and timelines if they are to be successful.  Druskat suggests that the highest performing teams regularly assess and update what they are doing in terms of their goals, plans and working practices.

Team diagnostic tools can help with this and feature in our Management courses and Team Development workshops. We also put a strong focus on proactive behaviours such as risk management in our Project Management courses, and problem solving techniques in our Introduction to Lean and Six Sigma.   All of these are approaches will help teams’ adaptability.

Adaptability is also a condition for innovation.  As Richard Boyatzis points out, in his chapter on “Adaptability and Leadership”, a leader can influence a team’s ability to innovate by being open to new ideas – not only in how they respond to suggestions from the team, but also by actively eliciting ideas from the team.

What is adaptability?

The illustration above is a handy description of adaptability.  Adaptability is about how one responds to change and uncertainty, how one innovates – whilst still being focused on the end goal.

Boyatzis has a useful addition to this.  He says adaptability is about being able to alter your thinking, approach and feelings to a response that is more useful or effective.

He also contrasts adaptability with rigidity.  Individuals, teams, organisations, nations etc. that demonstrate rigidity will often find themselves in power struggles.  The outcome of these struggles will be win / lose situations and unresolvable conflict.

However, Boyatzis also suggests that people might also want to retain a certain amount of rigidity to protect their values – so that it’s a question of balance.

Goleman emphasizes what distinguishes highly adaptable people in his concluding anecdote.  The individual concerned demonstrated a high level of tolerance for risk, ambiguity and stress – combined with a strong confidence in their ability to tackle any challenge that arose.

How to become more adaptable?

The authors of the various chapters have some great tips, ranging from the better known “Situational Leadership” approach that we teach in our management and leadership courses, to personal and team reflection, and neurological practices.

Adapting your leadership style

Vanessa Druskat reminds us of the importance of adapting your leadership style to the context.  This could be a team that requires a more directive or hands-off approach depending on the situation.  It could also be an individual that is in need of more coaching and support, as opposed to delegation and more scope for their initiative.  An adaptable leader will be aware of the best style to adopt for the given situation.

Personal reflection

Richard Boyatzis has some great tips for the kinds of questions you can ask yourself which I have adapted slightly as follows:

  • Ask yourself: “Is there another way… ?”… to do this, to respond etc.
  • In a conflict situation ask yourself: “What questions can I ask to better understand the other person’s perspective?”
  • In a group situation ask: “How could we approach this differently?”

By the way there is more about this in booklet number 10: Conflict Management, which is written up in Elisabeth Goodman’s blog Conflict is “the lifeblood of high performing organisations”.

Team reflection

The section above on why adaptability is important to the team already references some of the approaches available for teams to carry out self-evaluation.  Vanessa Druskat emphasizes the importance of making this a regular formal process for the team, with everyone included, and healthy open communication.

We also teach a range of learning approaches for teams in our Project Management, and Knowledge Management courses.

Druskat talks about the importance of a positive mindset or “Affirmative Environment” as a team norm.  And also a “Pro-active problem solving” team norm.

Neurological practices

Richard J. Davidson’s chapter on “Training your Brain to be Flexible” has some great insights on the neurological basis for adaptability.

He suggests that a healthy hippocampus is the key to this.  It is connected to other brain regions such as the amygdala (for emotions) and the prefrontal cortex (for guiding behaviour and anticipating the future.)

A healthy hippocampus will enable us to respond to the different contexts or situations that we find ourselves in at home and at work; when focusing on processes vs. interactions with people; when dealing with stressful situations.  It will enhance our adaptability.

The hippocampus has a high density of receptors for the stress hormone cortisol.  High levels of cortisol can apparently result in cell death and abnormalities, which will negatively impact the performance of the hippocampus and hence that of the other brain regions.

A healthy hippocampus is one where there is good cell growth (also referred to as neuroplasticity), and where this new growth is encoded with positive experiences.  We can encourage this healthy development through regular aerobic exercise and stress reducing activities.  Davidson’s suggestions include walks in nature, petting our pets, acts of kindness to others and meditation.


As Goleman and others point out, adaptability also relates to other aspects of emotional and social intelligence such as self-awareness, self-control and a positive outlook.

Goleman concludes that adaptability relies on a mindset where:

  • change is viewed as positive
  • problems are opportunities
  • conflict is productive

[Again, great messages that we reinforce in our courses that have been mentioned above, and also in our courses on dealing with or leading change.]

Adaptability relies on openness, flexibility and resilience.  People who are adaptable focus on anticipated benefits rather than a fear of the unknown, of pain or of loss.

Goleman encourages us to look for role models that we can learn from!


Other booklets in Goleman et al’s series that we have already written blogs on:

Our schedule of remaining courses for 2018 can be accessed on our web site and is also shown here:

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 15.58.11

Do get in touch if you would like to find out more about RiverRhee, and how we can help you to create exceptional managers and teams.

See the RiverRhee Consulting website or e-mail the author at elisabeth@riverrhee.com or contact Elisabeth on 07876 130 817.




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