First Sergeant's Corner: Adaptability

  • Published
  • By SMSgt Adrian Galcik, First Sergeant, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center
Adaptability is defined as possessing the quality to adjust to new and potentially unfamiliar conditions.

We as Airmen have been trained to adapt from civilians to knowledgeable airmen during basic training, then learning an entirely new trade in tech school, and then arriving to our new base with the expectation to quickly adapt to a new location, people, and work center within a short period of time. Adapting to our environments is critical to mission success and our personal development. With new supervisors, new standards (not only at work, but in life), and a new set of core values it’s essential that we are able to adapt to new environments. We all come from different backgrounds and have evolved and grown to where we are today. I’m sure if you look back, you’ll see how you’ve adapted and overcome many obstacles that you now consider “Lessons Learned.” The Air Force as we know it today is a fleeting memory. Almost yearly, new changes are projected. In my 20 years of service, through every change, there’s the opportunity to adapt to the “new.” There are three things I would like to highlight that I feel we must understand when it comes to adaptability.

#1 Understanding
Change is hard, but adapting is crucial. Trying to explain the WHY behind decisions is part of how leaders attempt to garner buy-in. This should look like explaining need for change as well as the end goal. What is the reason behind this change? What part of this impacts your mission directly? To what level do you modify how you or your work center performs the mission? Understanding these three basic questions will assist with adapting to what is considered new. Being able to voice these questions tactfully can pave a road for a smooth transition.

#2 Flexibility
Adaptable Airmen must have elastic-like energy and willingness to be able to bend and flex with changes. Being flexible allows you to have an open mind in order to adapt to what the new challenge is. This may look like incorporating a new skillset to accommodate change. Leaders who have cognitive, emotional, and dispositional flexibility can remain optimistic, yet realistic simultaneously. Airmen will look to you for guidance and mentorship. Your own flexibility is the key to successful implementation. Pessimistic attitudes, discouraging words, and a tendency to withdraw will see the work-center stagnate. I’ve always been told focus on the things within your own control. One thing that we can absolutely control is our attitude. This will ultimately lead to great flexibility.

#3 Emotional intelligence
This one seems to be the most difficult to implement, not only at work, but in life. Leaders should be able to read the room when they present change or new challenges. Yet are we actually aware of our own reactions and how we are perceived? Are we aware of the look on our faces when presenting information? Was it presented confidently? Leaders must adapt to their audience with the understanding that others may not receive the opportunity to change very well. Self-awareness and the regulation of our own emotions can ensure that we’re providing the opportunity for understanding, and the expectation of flexibility in a non-abrasive manner. A leader with emotional intelligence provides their members a sense of purpose without being judgmental.

These three are only some of the tools we can utilize to help with adapting. Adapting comes from an open and willing mindset. As writer Max Mckeown stated, “Adaptability is about the powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win.” Let’s adapt to win!