Adapt, Change, Repeat
A manager doesn’t always have to be the problem-solver. Becoming a learner again and trusting your staff might deliver better solutions.
“COVID-19 isn’t a big deal. There isn’t anything to worry about!” I said those words in January 2020 and weeks later I was shocked by life’s change of direction. Within months, I went from preparing for a busy year to trying to find my new normal in quarantine.
I had expectations and hopes for 2020 that didn’t involve culturing sourdough bread, going up a pants size or rationing personal protective equipment. I used to seek control and stability with every decision I made. Consistency is easy. Change requires us to leave our comfort zone and face hard situations while feeling all alone.
A few years ago, I realized that resisting change makes the journey harder. Embracing change is a skill that requires us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Staying flexible and viewing change as a welcome challenge helps me to ride the wave of life instead of feeling it crash down on me repeatedly.
Here’s how to adapt, change and repeat with finesse.
1. Become a Learner Again
Switching from expert to learner is difficult for many people. Defensiveness is usually the first reaction. I felt the same way when I was challenging myself to change. I wanted to argue that I had worked hard to be an expert and that I had put blood, sweat and tears into becoming highly skilled at my job. I was proud of what I had achieved, and it meant a lot that people came to me for advice.
Letting go of the thought that I was the expert was difficult, but when I did, I rolled with life rather than fight it. The other surprising benefit: When I approached situations as a learner, I was better able to support my team members and gain their trust. Team members want a competent leader they can depend on, and they also want to feel included if things have to change. When you are in a learner’s mindset, your thoughts change from “I must already have the answers” to “I’m curious about the solutions the team sees” to “Why is the team still not adopting this new protocol?” to “I’m curious about the challenges the team is facing.”
2. Flip the Script
It’s Nov. 13, 2019, and Janet the practice manager is already feeling holiday burnout. Employees want time off, clients are more demanding and the third pancreatitis case of the day just walked in.
Janet can’t wait for January, when things start to slow. She starts to daydream about how, for the first time in months, the hospital will be fully staffed, the team will get along again and she will start to see her hard work pay off.
But shortly, COVID went into full swing. After trying to keep up with new government regulations, declining team morale and clients at their breaking point, Janet found adapting to be difficult.
When a situation or person isn’t meeting your expectations, think about the new opportunity rather than what could have been. Flipping the script can open us to new ideas and sometimes make burdens feel more manageable.
People who turn demanding situations into opportunities think about the possibilities and let go of expectations. This approach doesn’t make time go faster or the challenge any less difficult, but it does shift the focus into a growth mindset instead of one stuck without options.
If you have a difficult time flipping the script in times of change, ask yourself:
- What opportunities exist that I might be missing?
- What do I want to use this time for?
- What goal do I want to achieve and who can help me achieve it?
3. Get Clear on the Responsibilities
How do you get team members to work together with a good attitude during difficult times? You can’t. You can’t make other people do something no matter how much you try.
I often hear managers say:
- “I just want my team to get along.”
- “Why can’t they work this out like adults?”
- “Maybe I will just stick them together and make them work it out.”
We might look at someone else in this situation and think, “Well, of course, she can’t make someone do something.” However, the part of our brain that gets us to think we can do something is sneaky and many can unknowingly fall victim to it.
Experiencing change can be difficult for everyone. As author Jocko Willink said, “There is no growth in the comfort zone,” meaning the goal is not to make everyone comfortable during such times. The goal is to offer support and create a community so that the load is a little lighter.
Everyone must own their part so that the team can learn and grow. To help the team work together, everyone must be held accountable for their actions. The lines can get fuzzy because while managers can influence a team’s behavior, they are not responsible for it.
Here are a few ways to identify who is responsible for what:
- Don’t jump to fix-it mode. Many managers pride themselves on their ability to solve problems for the staff. When managers jump into fix-it mode, taking responsibility for something they have no control over can be easy. Instead, stop and think through the issue and the actions you can take to support your team, and identify what’s reasonable for you to accomplish. For example, when a team is struggling to get along, it’s unreasonable to expect that you can make everyone like each other. But it is reasonable to create a system that encourages mutual respect. Identifying who is responsible for which actions will help focus the problem-solving on powerful solutions rather than on those that will be frustrating and disappointing.
- Ask questions to discover what is realistic. Asking questions can help you identify which part of the solution is yours to own. Allowing everyone to take responsibility for themselves can be uncomfortable, but the alternative is taking responsibility for something that can’t be controlled. This is important when managing the stress that comes with change.
Here are questions you can ask yourself:
- What can I control in this situation?
- What do I need from other people to be successful?
- What can’t I control?
Questions you can ask the team are:
- Can you explain to me what this means to you?
- Can you walk me through your thought process when you made this decision? What would you like to do about this situation?
Change is hard and going with the flow is always challenging. But embracing change can open previously unidentified possibilities. This approach can add excitement and optimism to a difficult time rather than burnout and exhaustion.
Trained by the International Coaching Federation, Kristina Guldbrand leads workshops, provides leadership and well-being education, and facilitates team building. She continues to expand her knowledge of perfectionism, neuroleadership, adult learning techniques and organizational psychology to provide up-to-date techniques to her clients.
1. The author Brené Brown has done excellent research on leaders who want to get it right versus always having to be right. She also has researched the different ways that leaders view the term “power.” For more on the topic, read her blog post “The Courage to Not Know” at bit.ly/37xbLXo.
2. Offer reflective comments to your team so that you can fully understand the situation. Reflective comments can be in the form of:
- A summary of your understanding of what team members are saying. This is sometimes called mirroring or paraphrasing.
- Something you noticed during a conversation. If a colleague uses a word repeatedly, you can say, “I noticed you use [example] frequently. I’m curious what that word means to you.”
- Feelings. When someone says he or she is fine but says it in a deep and angry tone, or with arms folded across the body, you can say, “I know you said you are fine, but I notice your tone and body language seem strained. Is there anything you would like to discuss?”
3. If change has left you feeling stressed or burned out, check out the book “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle,” by Drs. Emily and Amelia Nagoski.