I have a Moleskine notebook with pages of scattered notes from conversations I had a few years ago with a consultant from Texas named Guy Clumpner. He taught me a few things along theway.
One page of notes is pretty straightforward. "Adaptability," they read, "equals flexibility plus versatility."
Flexibility, essentially, is being open-minded. Versatility is the ability to demonstrate other behaviors; it requires self-awareness and a commitment to change.
I've been talking a lot about this model with clients, even as I live it out at home. My daughter, Thea, is not particularly versatile. She's only three. And I periodically have lapses -- large, yawning gaps -- in my ability to be flexible or versatile. I'm a bit older than three.
The arrival of Daylight Savings Time is bad news for those of us with small children, cats or dogs. If it can't tell time, odds are it has little or no respect for artificial adjustments to arbitrary times.
For instance, our early riser rousted us at 4:40 a.m. under the new time regime. She was wide awake, ready to roll.
Guess who suffers toward the end of the day?
Right -- everyone. It's likely no coincidence that our flexibility and versatility suffer under stress, or from a lack of sleep.
Managing organizations during times of stress and change is the organizational equivalent of a family with no sleep.
Stressed organizations with low self-awareness are filled with people eager to make the problem about someone else -- it's management or the economy or those roustabouts in accounting. It's easier to make it about someone else when we hit those vast lapses of control (or good parenting or leadership).
Stressed organizations with high self-awareness have leaders who walk around with mirrors at the ready; they know that it's all about them -- their self-awareness, their leadership, their adaptability. There's a high willingness to be accountable, to make the changes necessary and to adapt to new conditions.
Thea's not ready to carry her own mirror. In fact, it's part of our job as parents to keep her from needing one for a while yet. So we help her manage her stress, her lack of sleep, as best we can -- managing the difficult rhythms, being more mindful of our own behavior, accepting that we can help her through this transition. And in doing so, understanding that we are helping ourselves through the transition as well, and strengthening our family's adaptability.
The other thing I learned from Guy Clumpner? The power of storytelling, and the effectiveness of using parenting as a leadership tool.