Approaching New Leadership: Adaptability in the face of unavoidable change

Tuesday, March 3, 2020 - 09:00
AIM Blog Approaching New Leadership: Adaptability in the face of unavoidable change

Today’s new world of work comes with a more mobile, flexible, and globally diverse workforce, and an increasing rate of technological change. Now more than ever, we need the ability to be adaptive and resilient.

Market shifts and budget announcements have perpetuated language like “efficiency dividend” and “job cuts”. Compounding this uncertainty and adding further complexity are the multiple reviews and reports stating that we need to invest in upskilling our employees. It is often stressful, even anxiety-inducing, to deal with uncertainties in life and work, which can affect our ability to respond well.

While many policy shifts or transformation programs affect us directly, the tangible challenge of dealing with a new leader or supervisor can be personally challenging and confronting.

One way to deal with the fear of the unknown is to break the “uncertainty barrier”.

The uncertainty barrier: a barrier we create in our own minds that exists when facing an unknown agenda, something a new leader usually brings to the table.

Rest and Rise Above

It is important to recognise that our biology influences our ability to moderate the threat response when we’re suffering from stress and fatigue (all too often, in our “always on” world).

It takes conscious effort and energy to shift out of the default, emotionally driven response and operate from a position of measured cognitive rationality, energy we don’t always have unless, as conscious leaders, we maintain healthy habits such as good sleep, nutrition, and exercise.

From this more rational perspective, we can start to accept that while we may not always be able to control the outcome, we can control our response to it.

Consider the following to help you craft a measured response to change and uncertainty brought about by new leadership:


One of the important steps in becoming a better, more adaptable leader — and follower — is to acknowledge our conditioned responses and biases. Our deep-seated beliefs and previous experiences can colour our perspectives of the future, particularly when we are running on autopilot.

By consciously acknowledging that our personal experiences can influence our view of what is likely to play out, it becomes easier to remove ourselves from any emotional baggage or fears. Separating from the old allows us to take a fresh view on the new.

Re-imagine and Reflect

New leadership will often bring new ways of working, reporting, operating rhythms, expertise, and communication preferences. Instead of spending energy thinking of how things could go wrong, imagine how you can embrace the opportunity to learn and stretch yourself.

Sure, it may be hard to establish rapport at the start – every new leader must take time to figure out their own patch as well – but working hard to figure out how best to invest time in the new relationship can benefit you both.

New leaders will often create 90-day plans. Think about one for yourself and figure out how best to integrate it with your new leader’s plan so that they can work together.

Get Comfortable with Discomfort

Confront the unknown, difficult, and complex with the knowledge that any initial discomfort is a hump and that a little stress is good for us. When experiencing mild stress our sympathetic nervous system prompts action by driving the fight, flight, or freeze response. With practice, we can learn to operate on the cusp for bursts of time and this allows us to break new boundaries.

Know also that the human mind will seek patterns and comfort in what we experience, so practice awareness and know your limitations before promising too much too early on in a new leader relationship.

Construct a Positive Perspective

Create a sense of purpose in the relationship by settings goals together. You stand on the threshold of possibility. Be proud of who you are and remember that leaders are looking for people who can anticipate the future, deal with change, are authentic, demonstrate trustworthiness, and can inspire those around them to achieve more.

Developing an ability to see other people’s perspectives is vital in the new world of work and particularly important when confronting change. Learn to lead by learning to learn.