How do business leaders adapt and thrive no matter what the world throws at them?

Have you ever noticed how people react during and after a natural disaster like a flood, tornado or a wildfire? First they try to survive.

Afterwards, they salvage what they can and maybe claim if they have insurance. Some people are frozen with fear, others look for someone to blame out of fear, but some are already thinking about rebuilding and moving forward; because they see no other choice.

Our reaction to financial disasters triggered by man or a pandemic is essentially the same but the paradox is that ten of the world’s most successful companies started during various kinds of crisis and include Microsoft which was created in the middle of the 1970’s oil crisis, Disney in the 1929 “Great Depression, Airbnb rose during the 2007-8 financial downturn and Electonic Arts sprang up in the earlier 1981-82 recession. Then we have FedEx, General Motors, Groupon, HP, IM and WhatsApp who all opened their doors during crises, and they thrived! What connect them is the wide-eyed entrepreneurial vision of their founders allied to their ability to take talented and engage people with them on the journey. These businesses are all based on adaptability, it’s in their DNA and even today they are the fountains of innovation that might just disrupt themselves!

You could say that the very best time to start a business is during a recession. But of course, it has to be the right kind of business, one capable of thriving in the new circumstance.

It takes massive effort and time but were all driven to adapt.

At the time of writing this post, we’re in the middle of the Covid-19 Pandemic and you may be looking back thinking this is all ancient history. I’m one of the lucky ones my business is doing very well thank you, but I have friends and clients who were not so fortunate, and this post is dedicated to them.

Our responses to a pandemic, war or financial meltdown are essentially the same and are controlled by very primitive survival drives. Some businesses inevitably die in the “conflagration”. They find themselves in the wrong sector at the wrong time with everything beyond their ability to prevent loss. Some businesses manage to survive but are chronically damaged and never really recover. But, there’s another breed of business who quickly accepts the challenge of the new reality and finds novel disruptive ways to move forward. These “Adaptable businesses” offer hope for the future providing new jobs forming the foundation of a re-built economy.

Never is there a more crucial time for a leader to step up and lead than when the going gets tough. After all, that’s why you get the big paycheck. Nevertheless, there’s only so much you can do if the external pressures outweigh your ability to hold the business together.

One of my coaching clients, let’s call him Bill Campion, gave me the following reply after I asked him how he was feeling about things in his business. After a delay of perhaps three or four minutes he said, “Gary, it’s like this. I have the boot of my Board and shareholders on one side of the back of my neck and the boot of the regulators on the other. Then I have one had of my workforce around the front of my neck and the hand of my clients on the other”, “and they feel like they aim to meet in the middle”. He went on to tell me how he felt he was “losing my grip on the strings of the business”.

Leadership can be a very lonely place and I’m sure we all resonate with Bill’s experience sometimes. The opportunity is to discover new ways to reduce our isolation and prevent feeling strangled!

I’m an eternal optimist so this post unashamedly focusses on a positive future, one fuelled by our deepest core values and ethics, a world based on sustainable co-operation creating benefits for all, not just the lucky few.

Through the lens of the Business Leader

We’ll be focussing on you the Adaptive Business Leader and how you can navigate the choppiest of seas. You might be about to start a business, or you may already lead a business, or you might be considering selling or leaving a business for pasture new. Whilst these situations appear different the underlying purpose of successful leadership and this post is the same – How to envisage an attractive future and how to make that become real for all who may follow.

I keep hearing people say “we’re living in uncertain times” but this misses the point. We’ve always lived in uncertain times. The rate of change may ebb and flow, and the quality of a particular uncertainty may appear unique. Nonetheless, leaders must navigate uncharted waters and appear to our followers to have a steady hand on the tiller. They need to feel that their gift of following is rewarded with empathy, ability and certainty.

Leaders are charged with working out where the pot of gold lies, charting a course to get there, knowing how fast to travel, decide who is going along, what kind of vessel should they use, ensuring fresh provisions and exerting discipline when needed! No pressure there then.

When we add all the external factors like storms, pirates and scurvy it’s a daunting task for anyone. Thankfully the finest Ship’s captains handle all of that and more. They naturally adopt new ways of beating any threat and getting us all to the promised treasure. They know instinctively who to nurture gently and whom to give “tough love”. We feel they would die with us if necessary (or at least go down with the ship and not extract money from the business before it does).

So, what characterises the “Adaptable Leader” who thrives in adversity and plenty. What kinds of businesses do they lead and how do they share their insights and practices with their workforce, their customers and society as a whole?

Adaptable Businesses

Well, of course, there’s an element of luck involved. As every kind of downturn or upswing is triggered differently the impact hits different sectors disproportionately. You could be running a brilliant chain of bars, but six months of social distancing can destroy your best-laid business plan. If your principal client was Barings Bank during the 2008 financial crisis it didn’t matter how brilliantly you delivered, your revenue plummeted overnight.

What determines the likelihood of recovery and growth?

The most important factors involved in rapid business recovery and growth are individual and collective mindset, leadership skills and high-performance culture.

Perhaps 60% of businesses in a downturn will be like a rabbit in the headlights fighting desperately to keep going by trying to fight each fire. The other “40%” is already adapting and pivoting their business to work out what they can do to offer value to new kinds of customers. I call these the “Roaring 40%”.

The Roaring 40% are always laser focussed on giving their customers and clients the very best value, and they’re also expecting to get paid accordingly. These companies are dedicated to supporting their workforce however they can, for they know helping them through the tough times as well as good is essential for an engaged and motivated workforce.

The Roaring 40% business leaders see the world as it is and they look even harder for opportunities when the going is tough. They’re constantly asking, “What if” and running small experiments to see what gets traction, and what doesn’t. They know their first idea may not work but they do it anyway and move forwards. They see what part of their offer can be delivered online or over the phone. They’re even prepared to move away completely from their old business model if necessary.

The Roaring 40% business leader surrounds themself with like-minded adaptive people who appreciate the challenges. They share ideas and give tough love to one another. They come up with collaborations and create new businesses and services no-one thought of before. They remove boundaries and disrupt sectors. They don’t compete with each other they compete with the problems!

Next, these people constantly hone their leadership skills. There has to be a change in culture to succeed in our volatile world. Never has humble, inclusive and adaptive leadership been more vital. It’s all about designing a Hi-Fidelity Business Radar based on everyone’s strengths and the ability to identify and remove interferences.

A 21st Century mode of business leadership

We’ve got an opportunity to develop a revolutionary 21st Century version of leadership and we need to refine and strengthen it because the world will never be the same, and many of the old ways are redundant. They are solutions to problems we don’t have now.

In this post and the ones that will follow, we’ll explore a new world reality and see how our individual and collective searches for “Meaning”, “Significance” and “Influence” in our lives and businesses drive success.

Religion used to satisfy these human yearnings but in the last century and into this one many people have become rudderless and seek other means to find their life’s meaning, significance and influence. For example, what we see in the phenomenon of social media is the bastardisation of this search where a desire to influence comes first (e.g. likes on our posts) and our significance is measured by the number of “friends” we have. It’s like junkies where there is no purpose behind the activity except a need to get a hit of pseudo-love. As a result, their fundamental, if unconscious, desire for meaning is never satisfied. So, they post more, create private groups etc. etc. etc. in the vain search for something to validate them.

Hopefully, my Blogs will be an antidote to this human hamster wheel.

In my posts on “Meaning” we’ll see how various people have harnessed their most fundamental and powerful human characteristics to build values-based, purpose-driven sustainable business pushing the limits of what’s possible. We’ll dip into just enough science (I promise) to understand how we can manage our biology and use the Adaptive Intelligence Pathway (AIP) to make wiser decisions more often. More wise decisions mean a higher likelihood of achieving our desired goals, so that’s worth pursuing isn’t it?

From our earliest words, we all want to be heard and our opinions valued. We want to feel significant. We want people to weigh our contributions and reward us. Even as adults we never lose this desire. In terms of “Significance” we’ll investigate whether you’re a “Heart”, “Head” or “Hands” kind of leader and how that affects your success. We’ll see how our self-limiting beliefs and mindset support or interfere with our sense of significance. Oh, and we’ll equip you with some great new real-world tools and skills.

You’re reading this post because you already lead a business or you’re considering launching one and you know your destiny depends entirely on your ability to influence others positively. So, in the “Influence” posts we’ll discuss amongst other things the main leadership challenges for businesses in the 2020s, how to align your core values with your clients and workforce, the power of collective intelligence and the concept of value propositions for your customers and workforce alike.

Adaptive Intelligence

Everything in my posts are based on the concept of Adaptive Intelligence so I will need to explain some of the science behind it as well as its practical application in the business world. I’m sure you want to know the secret to success right away but please be patient, I want to set the scene first!

I bet you know someone who’s pretty much entirely driven by their heart, their love of people and a desire just be helpful? They’re wonderful human beings and a delight to be with but mostly they couldn’t plan their way out of a wet paper bag and never deliver the goods. They use their “Heart mind” for everything even when it’s not appropriate.

Another great example of using the wrong brain are self-proclaimed “perfectionists” who go around and around locked within their “Head mind” trying to come up with a hermetically sealed perfect plan, not knowing why they need the plan and never managing to rustle up the courage to get off their intellectual butts and take meaningful action.

Then, of course, we have what I call the “dumb brave”. Their “Gut mind” takes immediate massive action but they’ve no idea why they’re doing this nor have any kind of plan to follow through.

All of these single-minded people underachieve because they don’t understand they have three minds all intended for different tasks. Unfortunately, they also don’t appreciate to excel we must use all of our minds, and each one doing the right job in the correct order “Heart” - “Head” - “Gut”. When this happens they leverage their Adaptive Intelligence (AQ). The more they practice this the wiser their decisions become and they reap the rewards.

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” - Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is the finest example of someone who knew this, and he re-designed an entire nation! His purpose was the creation of a fair, inclusive and diverse society in South Africa that could thrive because of its differences. He determined his core values, ethics and purpose first (Heart). Once his purpose was clear he never wavered, and this became the foundation upon which he planned the emancipation and collaboration of all races within South Africa (Head). He waited 20 years before his release allowed him to take action! He could have let his passion (Gut) take over at that point and seek retribution but instead, he gathered like-minded people around him and collectively they led a nation away from potential chaos. He knew he had to use all of his minds to make this new vision real and that Heart came first. Of course, he succeeded in his endeavour and has become a beacon for all other visionary values-driven leaders.

By comparison, most of our goals look small and not a little prosaic! However, they are important to us and the principles and practice of leveraging your Adaptive Intelligence are the same as Nelson Mandela’s. My goal within this post is to provide you with the same insights and tools Mandela took decades to develop.

Over the last forty years, I’ve come to realise taking ownership of our internal world (our three minds) and our interactions with the external world (our behaviours) is the foundation of any achievement in any arena.

I’ll integrate science, psychology, education, sports coaching and business insights to help you along the path to becoming an “Elite Adaptive Business Athlete”. In doing so you’ll build a sustainable business everyone else wishes they owned. And when the time comes to leave it your parting gift will be a positive echo where people recall the things you did for them that released the best version of themselves.

How you choose to deploy your new insight is entirely up to you.

Let’s dip our toes into your search for personal and professional meaning.

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.” E.E. Cummings

9 views0 comments