Adaptability: The Characteristic of Successful People


The key characteristic of the success of many people, whether in the church world or outside of it, is the ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment.

Tom Rath says this in his book Strengthsfinder 2.0, “People strong in the Adaptability theme prefer to ’go with the flow.’ They tend to be ‘now’ people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.”

Here at the Vanderbloemen Search Group, we are in the business of helping churches and ministries find high capacity candidates. One of the characteristics we notice in high capacity people is not just flexibility but the ability to embrace change quickly. Leaders who are adaptable are often strategic planners but don’t resent the inevitable sudden detours. They can be productive and live in the tension of the unknown future destination.

Most of us would say that we are generally averse to change and would rather not have to adjust what we do or say to adapt to others or our environment. I used to be more set in my ways and somewhat of a control freak. I have learned through various ministry roles and life experience that we don’t seem to grow unless we can deal with the pain of change and letting go. Remember the phrase, “No pain, no gain.”

Growth through pain can relate to almost all areas of our lives. We must push through the pain of exercise and break down our muscles in order to build them up. We must grieve the loss of a job we may have loved in a place we may be comfortable in order to move on to new and better opportunities. Many times, we must let go of the past seasons of our lives in order to embrace the future. Leaving some things behind so as to have room for what is ahead. Pain and grief go hand in hand with growth and change.

One of the hardest parts of learning to be more adaptable is living in the tension of what Pastor Jeff Manion calls in his book The Land Between. In the land between, there is often time of waiting and longing. Times of unknown futures. Grieving what was and longing for what’s next. There are no answers in the land between. The pain experienced here, when allowed to take root and heal, leads to an open-handedness with life and the circumstances that may come. Thus, when you learn to hold your life more loosely and realize that ultimately you are not in control, adaptability results.

Consider these questions when evaluating whether you are adaptable or not: 

      • Are you a person who is able to embrace change quickly or do you flee from it?
      • When you are asked to make changes within your current organization, what is your first thought or attitude? Are you open? Angry? Cautious?
      • Can you live in the tension of the unknown, or do you feel the need to control all the outcomes?
      • Would others say you are a control freak? If so, why? What evidence is there in your life that would lead them to that conclusion?
      • How can you learn to embrace change more easily?
      • Are you living in a land between right now? If so, what in your life might need to be grieved in order to embrace the next season?

Here are some tips to help you grow in your adaptability: 

      • Be more spontaneous. You never know what opportunities you might miss if you don’t carpe diem.
      • Be calm and accepting when unexpected changes happen. Start to become the change you want to see. It is an act of will and disciple t first but will become second nature with practice.
      • Learn how to alter your schedule when changes happen. Build in margin for making adjustments easily. A weekly schedule that is too tight does not allow for fluidity.
      • Find someone you admire with high adaptability and learn from them.
      • Volunteer in a role that requires extra-ordinary flexibility in order to grow in this area.

What about you? Are there areas of your life or role that you find that you are more easily adaptable than others?

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