So You Want To Be More Agile?

Steve LudwigCoachingLeave a Comment

A man demonstrating his agility through floor gymnastics

OK, I don’t mean gymnastic agility.

Some of us crave routine; others thrive on the novel. Most are somewhere in between.

Let’s face it, when we are busy with home life, kids, aging parents, whatever game on our phone we are addicted to, and trying to keep relationships going, the last thing we want is curve balls at work.

Sadly, life never seems to stick to our preferred schedule.

One of the characteristics of a Pathfinder is the ability to be agile, adapting to situations as they arise and finding new ways forward. If your agility score is not where you would like it to be, there are some steps you can take to become more agile.

Research by the consultancy McKinsey has found that individuals often find themselves in a common predicament known as the “adaptability paradox” (we are using agile and adaptability interchangeably). That’s where one defaults to familiar routines or previous solutions during crucial periods when adaptability is most needed.

McKinsey identifies four areas to focus on to enhance adaptability:

  • Practice Well Being
  • Make Purpose Your North Star
  • Develop an Adaptive Mindset
  • Build Deeper Human Connections

Step 1: Practice Well-Being

Caring for one’s own well-being isn’t a selfish act but a necessity for sound decision-making amid uncertainty. Leaders who prioritize their well-being can significantly influence their organizations positively. McKinsey’s survey found that self-care was linked with a 21% improvement in work effectiveness, a 46% boost in employee engagement, and a 45% increase in overall well-being. Companies that prioritize employee well-being have reported lower turnover rates, higher innovation ratings, and even improved long-term stock performance. Thus, fostering well-being is a vital step towards adaptability and success in challenging times.

What does well-being mean? There is no one-size fits all, as that’s going to depend on your personal taste, circumstances, values, and temperament. But it should include body, mind, and spirit.

Step 2: Make Purpose Your North Star

Purpose begins with identifying what truly matters to you and what you wish to dedicate time to. Acting as your North Star, it can guide you through difficult decisions and motivate progress. Along with defining what you aspire to achieve, purpose also frames your “non-negotiables” – the commitments you vow not to break, regardless of circumstances. These could include mentoring junior colleagues, making time for family events, or ensuring regular visits to your parents. Upholding these vows is essential, even when it’s challenging.

The correlation between well-being and purpose is significant. Individuals who feel they are “living their purpose” at work report well-being levels five times higher than those who do not. These individuals also tend to be healthier, more productive, and resilient.

Step 3: Develop an Adaptive Mindset

If the brain doesn’t acquire new knowledge, it tends to make predictions based on previously learned experiences. This explains why individuals tend to fall back on familiar behaviors, particularly in stressful situations.

Basically, when the “fight or flight” part of our brain gets activated, we do what worked before, even if that behavior doesn’t fit this situation.

What to do? Notice your stress response. What is your psychological response to a situation? Does your chest get tight, stomach upset, palms sweaty? That can be a clue that you are activated and might be going into default mode.

At that time, remind yourself that there are different ways to see a situation and multiple perspectives you can explore. That will allow you to enter a range of greater possibilities.

Self-awareness and reflection play vital roles in fostering adaptability. To cultivate awareness, one effective approach is to create a “to be” list, which outlines the values we strive to embody.

Additionally, setting intentions in the morning, especially before facing a demanding day or encountering challenges at work, can contribute to building awareness. Engaging in reflective practices at the end of the day, specifically focusing on difficult moments, further enhances the development of an adaptable mindset that paves the way for future growth.

It is important to recognize that experiencing anxiety or uncertainty is inevitable and not the primary concern. The key lies in how we respond to these pressures—whether we choose to repeat the same patterns or embrace them as opportunities for learning and change.

Step 4: Build Deeper Human Connections

About this time, you might be asking yourself, “Is this therapy or are we looking at ways to increase agility for Pathfinders?”

We get it. However, as the McKinsey research shows these sorts of practices make a difference when it comes to increasing your adaptability.

Think of it this way, do your people have your back—and you have theirs—when “it” hits the fan? Having strong relationships with people you trust is critical during periods of uncertainty. It gives us solid ground to stand on when it seems like the world is spinning.

How to build stronger relationships you ask? McKinsey has some thoughts:

Pay full attention to the person in front of you (physically or virtually). That means not looking at your phone, smartwatch, email, or something else when someone is speaking. Give them your full attention and listen deeply.

Allow yourself to be vulnerable. A lot of people in business, especially in certain parts of the world, are not a fan of this one. Professor Brene Brown wasn’t either, but her research led her to understand how important sharing our fears, concerns, and imperfections is for human connections. Her Ted Talk on the subject has over 60 million views.

Practice empathy. Take the time to understand the other person’s point of view. This also means practicing healthy detachment, where you can be present with someone’s concerns or issues, but you don’t plug into them emotionally yourself.

Meet others with compassion. If you notice that a colleague is in distress due—mental, physical, etc.—take supportive action.

Becoming more adaptable is a process, sometimes with trial and error, but the rewards are worth it. If you can do this work, you will notice that yourself becoming more agile and a stronger Pathfinder.

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