What It Means to Be an Adaptable Leader and Why It’s Important for Business Success

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Ironically enough, if there’s one constant in business, it is the fact that things will change. Some of these will take a long time to occur, a gentle evolution that gives businesses the chance to steadily implement adjustments. Others are hard and fast. Our current pandemic has seen the collapse of more than one business, with more still struggling to understand how to shift their operations and motivate their employees at a time of crisis.  

One key element that all businesses need to foster is adaptable leadership. Employees with this trait are vital and have the agility to not only respond to problems but to inspire their colleagues to shift and thrive. They are needed throughout every area of business. They strategize solutions, and they have a deep understanding of the talent in their departments, which allows them to delegate for success. Adaptable leaders ensure not only that businesses survive but that they emerge from periods of struggle stronger.

When embarking upon your career in leadership you need to know what it means to be agile. So we’re going to examine why adaptability is essential to businesses alongside what skills and experiences you should be nurturing. With some dedication to making adjustments, you can be a leader who businesses not only desire but need.

Why is It Important?

We’ve established that businesses need adaptable leaders, but why is this a vital characteristic? Well, adaptability in itself suggests that the leader understands that there is no single appropriate approach for every situation. Indeed their skills help them to develop the “best for right now” mindset. As Maryville University notes, “the challenge of finding the most effective leadership style is knowing when the approach that worked yesterday is ill-suited to the needs of today and tomorrow.” In other words, they can accurately assess the circumstances and the people involved, and adjust their leadership style to suit both as changes occur. This mindset shows that the leader is always considering what is best for the company and its employees, rather than an ego-fuelled commitment to their proprietary “style.” 

We must also consider the holistic effect leaders tend to have on the business itself. The best leaders don’t simply function as issuers of orders. They are influencers. As such, employees tend not to just follow the commands of a leader, but also their example — in both positive and negative ways. Adaptable leaders have the potential to foster the same flexibility in their colleagues, which puts the company in a much more agile position overall.  

While adaptability is important to face challenges, unexpected and planned alike, it can also play a more active role in change. Taking an adaptable approach tends to require an element of open-mindedness; you have to be receptive to possibilities and outside-of-the-box thinking. This trait is key to innovation. Leaders who allow their employees the flexibility to explore can lead the business down avenues of potential that more rigid leaders would leave untapped. 

What Skills Should You Hone?

That you’re seriously considering how to mold yourself into an adaptable leader is a positive start; it shows that you’re already open to making changes. This is among the traits you need to nurture as you develop. The range of skills for an adaptable leader encompasses both technical business acumen, alongside so-called soft skills.

Some of the key skills include:

  • Agile Strategic Thinking

As an adaptable leader, you need to be able to read the challenges of a situation and know how to move forward. You need to understand how to build comprehensive business continuity plans that can be edited and implemented in any circumstance. This includes understanding the key areas of the business, and how their operations can be altered to keep them functioning though everything from pandemic to a cybersecurity breach. Your strategies also need to have elements of flexibility so that you can continue to adapt to changes. 

  • Critical Mental Scripting

Your scripts are those automatic, almost instinctive behaviors that occur when you’re faced with a certain stimulus. Some of these can be useful, but to be an adaptable leader you need to be able to cast a critical analysis on your mental scripts. Is your first natural response to a situation the most appropriate given the circumstances and people involved? Are you able to consider it from a different perspective? This goes alongside a general self-awareness that all leaders should have.  

  • Desire to Learn

An adaptable leader accepts that they don’t know everything, and is always eager to learn. This doesn’t mean that you always need to be attending formal courses. You have to develop a habit of always asking questions, observing what is going on around you, and actively listening to what people are saying. This inquisitiveness will help you to view situations from different perspectives and gain a wider selection of tools with which to respond to challenges.

How Can You Build Agility?

So how do you set about becoming an adaptable leader? Well, it begins right at the foot of the corporate ladder. Don’t wait until you are in a leadership role before you start developing your skills. From day one, seek out experiences that build your leadership skills — whether this is part of your day-to-day duties or joining a formalized career development program.   

Your adaptability training doesn’t necessarily have to be rooted in your job either. Find opportunities to put yourself outside of your comfort zone. Work with volunteer organizations that can help you engage with a more diverse community and culture. After all, one of the most important aspects of agile leadership is understanding that embracing a diverse workforce is key in adapting to challenges.

You must also make time to nurture and follow your curiosity. At work, make connections with different departments, take an interest in what they do, and what talent drives them. Offer your services on projects beyond those that pertain to your personal interests. You’re likely to gain deeper insights into the company that will allow you to be more agile when you’re ready for leadership.


Business is not always predictable, which is why leaders must be adaptable. Whether in the face of an unexpected disaster or simply facing the challenges of day-to-day operations, you have to develop skills that allow you to be flexible. Actively seek out the opportunities and experiences that make you a more agile and valuable part of the business.