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Adaptability | Virtue

On June 3rd, 2017, Alex Honnold achieved what many considered impossible. The 31-year-old rock climber free soloed El Capitan's 3,000 foot sheer granite face in Yosemite, climbing without ropes or protective gear. For almost 4 grueling hours, Honnold meticulously ascended, using just his bare hands, feet, and bag of chalk to conquer one of the most intimidating big wall climbs in the world.

Honnold's succesful climb required him to thoughtfully adapt his approach as conditions shifted. He encountered baking heat one minute, gusting winds the next. Foot and hand holds crumbled and dislodged. Yet with incredible focus and presence of mind, Honnold masterfully adjusted his body positioning, resting spots, and techniques to match the changing terrain and elements. This dynamic adaptability in the face of huge risk helped him conquer El Capitan.

As leaders, our ability to embody the virtue of adaptability is critical. Conditions will change and unforeseen obstacles will disrupt our plans. New avenues and opportunities will emerge. As we get to know our team's strength's, weaknesses, and motivations, we will need to adapt our coaching and leadership strategies. Rigidly sticking to a plan in all scenarios can lead to suboptimal results or outright failure.

At the same time, being overly adaptable without core guiding principles is also dangerous. We can lose our sense of direction, indecisively chasing every new idea, suggestion. Our goal should be the golden mean of adaptability between the deficiency of rigidity and the excess of indecisiveness.

The ideal is to remain firmly rooted in our core values and objectives, while dynamically adapting our specific methods, tactics, and strategies. We should objectively question our assumptions, humbly seek out new perspectives, and creatively construct novel solutions when needed.

When we do this, our adaptability allows us to equip and inspire those we lead. We demonstrate an eagerness to evolve, learn, and find the most effective path, while providing coherent vision anchored in clear priorities.

We can cultivate the virtue of adaptability by pushing ourselves to try new approaches to routine tasks. We can seek out diverse experiences that take us outside our comfort zones. We can closely study and learn from exemplars of adaptability like Alex Honnold. Most importantly, we can be intentional about of self-reflection, curiosity, and creative problem-solving.

When faced with unexpected changes or daunting challenges in our path, stay focused yet flexible. Through our adaptability, we can equip ourselves and those we lead to scale seemingly insurmountable walls.

Engage with the WWTO Leadership Community by responding in the comments below:

  • Can you think of other examples from sports, business, or your own life that illustrate the importance of adaptable leadership? What happened when a leader stuck too rigidly to a plan despite changing conditions?

  • How have you tried to cultivate the virtue of adaptability in your own leadership or work? What practices or habits have been most helpful for enhancing your ability to fluidly adjust your approach while staying anchored in core priorities?

  • The piece emphasizes finding the balanced "golden mean" of adaptability between the extremes of rigidity and formlessness. Can you share a experience where you or a leader you admire struck that skillful balance? What were the specific behaviors that allowed for principled flexibility?

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