The Agile Leader: Adaptability

By Bruna Martinuzzi

© iStockphoto
MarkBeckwith

Agility is key.

There is a well-known Chinese proverb that says that the wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water molds itself to the pitcher. Perhaps at no other time in recent history has adaptability been more important than it is now. Adaptability – the ability to change (or be changed) to fit new circumstances – is a crucial skill for leaders, and an important competency in emotional intelligence.

A 2008 study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, entitled Growing Global Executive Talent, showed that the top three leadership qualities that will be important over the years ahead include: the ability to motivate staff (35 percent); the ability to work well across cultures (34 percent); and the ability to facilitate change (32 percent). The least important were technical expertise (11 percent) and "bringing in the numbers" (10 percent).

As a leader, it is therefore crucial to make a concerted effort to understand people of different cultures, and cultural adaptability has become a leadership imperative. As an example, a leader I am currently working with has 22 different cultures represented in his team!

An example of a leader who epitomizes this prized quality is Robert McDonald, chief operating officer of the Procter & Gamble Company, who has spent much of the past two decades in various overseas postings. In a recent interview, he said:...

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