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Why Emotional Intelligence Is Critical For Developing Adaptability Skills

Written by: Maureen Chiana, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it. -Chinese Proverb

Why Emotional Intelligence is Critical for Building An Adaptable Workforce

Emotional Intelligence is a different way of being smart, as described by Daniel Goleman, and a key to high performance.

The speed of change has increased a lot in the last few years, causing an accelerated disruption for many leaders and organisations, because they have failed to adapt their ways of working to the unique demands of this disruption.

Adaptability is having flexibility in handling change, being able to alter behaviours to meet the demands of new situations, and adjusting to uncertainty with fresh ideas or innovative approaches. It means that you're able to stay focused on your goals but readily adjust your strategy to achieve them.

When things change or, you come across challenges can you step back and ask yourself, "`What can I do differently?"; "Is there another way to approach this?" This ensures that your emotional brain does not hijack your brain, freeing you to make intentional decisions.

Organisations are experiencing constant changes in their systems and processes, changing customer demands, staff retention, hybrid working, and team engagement. Developing Adaptability skills is essential, and this means avoiding being reactive to challenges and change when they come but rather being prepared.

Research shows that during periods of transformation and systemic change, in order to focus your attention on opportunities rather than just challenges, an adaptable mindset is critical for success.

Being adaptable boosts mental and emotional well-being turns adversity into a learning opportunity, and helps create positive relationships where people can thrive.

Many organisations are realising that humans are at the heart of change, so it's important to develop employees with high emotional intelligence, as this is central to transformation.

Having good emotional intelligence involves optimal functioning of your brain functions, especially the emotional brain that helps keep you vigilant to danger and opportunities to ensure that you respond appropriately. By moderating your reaction to situations and interpreting them correctly, you learn to moderate your flight or fight response into more intentional responses. Savvy leaders know they must be able to adapt quickly.

The Barriers to Adaptability

The resistance to change comes from both within us and externally. We all have developed routine behaviour patterns that are controlled by our subconscious brain such, as riding a bike or driving to work.

Lack of self-awareness prevents us from being aware of our behaviour and habits, making us unable to see other options.

Relying on autopilot (maintaining the status quo) hinders leaders from being able to develop the skills required to be adaptable when confronted with change or obstacles, reinforcing those thought and behaviour patterns in the brain, making it difficult to shift to a new perspective or way of doing things.

Developing Adaptability as a Leader

The great news is that Adaptability, can be learned in three simple steps:

Developing Emotional self-awareness helps you recognise and understand how your feelings, thoughts, and emotions impact your actions and behaviour. How well a team performs and grows from challenges under normal conditions is a massive indicator of how resilient that team will be when exposed to extreme and sustained levels of pressure and uncertainty. Leaders must create an environment that encourages team members to support each other and pull together when dealing with change or challenges.

External awareness is observing your external environment, interactions, and relationships whilst paying attention to how they impact your thoughts and goals. It's staying clam and not being emotionally triggered by unexpected events, so when confronted with a problem, you become solution-focused rather than dwelling on the problem.

As an adaptable leader, you communicate with your team about the next steps and create an action strategy or plan. Adaptability is an emotional intelligence tool to help you stay focused on what matters most.

Radical adaptability enables you to constantly anticipate change, re-label the situation to see new opportunities and transform yourself through change. It's learning to stay focused on your goals but easily adjust how you achieve them when change occurs.

With knowledge of how the brain works, it has become evident that practicing activities that reduce stress, such as reframing limiting thoughts and regular aerobic exercise, can help develop adaptability.

Developing adaptability starts with a growth mindset that views problems as opportunities and conflict as productive. This requires openness, flexibility, and resilience. Leaders that struggle to deal with change and uncertainty often view change negatively, limiting their potential for high performance. Fortunately, you can train yourself to see change as positive. You can 'rewire your brain' for adaptability.

Start by paying attention to your routines and recognise when behaviour patterns get in the way of reaching your goal. Through this process, you'll develop your adaptability, and become a more resilient leader.

As a leader, how you respond under pressure makes an indelible impression on people and impacts your team's performance.

It's about preparing yourself and your people for uncertainty by asking "how might we make ourselves increasingly ready for whatever comes next?"

Adaptable people see change and uncertainty as positive and look for the opportunities they present, and it is critical for effective outstanding leadership.

Follow me on LinkedIn, Instagram, and visit my website and Academy for more info!

Get a copy of my Free Resilient Leaders Blueprint.


Maureen Chiana, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Maureen is the CEO and founder of The Mindsight Academy and host of Lead To Excel Podcast. She leverages on brain-science insights of how the brain works to empower executives, leaders and business owners to unlock potential, maximise performance, accelerate and embed new behaviours to enable them transform how they lead, work and live. Maureen is passionate about helping people mitigate the biases that negatively affects them and their decisions, so that they can flourish, excel and become limitless.



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