Be adaptable

“Adaptable leaders can flex their behavior and relate more effectively with people who are different from them. They adjust more quickly to unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and unpredictable situations.”

Meena Surie Wilson

The one thing you can say for certain is that the world will not turn out the way you expect. Life surprises us in both directions.

On Wall Street, portfolio managers are paid a fortune to predict the financial markets, yet most fail to beat the market by even a few percentage points. If highly paid executives with vast resources can’t predict the future, neither can the rest of us.

Just because your gut or father or teacher or boss or spouse tells you what’s going to happen, never bet everything that this is what’s actually going to happen. In other words, the more volatile the times, the more important it is to keep your options open and be adaptable.

For example, you can keep your options open by renting instead of buying, or by applying to five schools instead of just three. You can take a course at night to broaden your skills, even though it would be easier to just watch TV. You could be friendly to everyone at work, instead of just to your boss and her boss. You could be respectful to all the other elected officials, instead of just the ones in your own party.

Part of being adaptable is understanding the limits you place on your own success, due to your own attitudes and beliefs. I've delivered hundreds of training workshops, and it always amazes me how many people say something to the effect of, "Wow. Technology is really going to change my industry, but I'm too old to adapt."

Most of those people were younger than me. Most of the people who have actually profited from my workshops were no younger than the people who claimed to be too old to change. Some people will always perceive themselves to be too old, or too young, or too something to succeed. Don't be one of them.

One of my professors from Wharton, Ken Smith, taught me an incredibly valuable lesson. He argued that everyone perceives himself or herself to be stuck in the middle. Middle managers feel stuck in the middles, yes, but CEOs feel stuck between employees and the board, investors and analysts. Star actors feel stuck between the studios, directors, and audience expectations. It goes on and on.

Decide right here and now that you are never going to stop changing. Always be ready to learn, to pivot, to experiment. If you do, you can be young at 85 and ready to lead at 18.

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