Adaptability in Leadership: Putting Lessons Learned Into Practice

February 18, 2021 Lydia Adams

Group of people learning about adaptability

With 2020 finally in the rearview mirror, many of us are reflecting back on the challenges we faced over the past year with one singular thought - adaptability in leadership and the leadership role as a whole. It certainly was a difficult year for a lot of people, but maybe it wasn’t all bad and in fact, if you are an adaptable leader you probably learned lessons that will help you to solve problems for years to come.

If 2020 showed us anything, it’s that we’re all far more resilient than we ever thought thanks to our ability to adapt. On this episode of CFO Weekly, our guest is Liz Hosman. Liz is the VP of Finance at March Communications, a technology PR agency dedicated to B2B and consumer tech brands across all sectors, but primarily those in the enterprise tech, AI, and wellness and health tech sectors.

Our conversation centered on the adapting to the challenges faced in 2020, how those challenges altered the landscape of her organization, emotional intelligence, and how she and her team plan to keep the positive changes & psychological safety going into 2021 and beyond.

Overcoming Challenges, Creating Opportunities & Leadership Adaptability

Like probably every working parent across the world, the hardest part of 2020 and the pandemic for Liz was learning to work from home with a three-year-old. Learning to balance a full-time working schedule for her and her husband, as well as keep a three-year-old entertained by something other than a television or table proved difficult. It was hard for every parent to not feel like a lousy one for most of 2020, especially those with leadership development in mind.

The biggest challenge from a business perspective, at least for Liz and her team, was the constant change and flux in the landscape of the finance industry. Navigating the PPP process, with rules and regulations changing by the minute, meaning that they needed to learn to adapt with a highly adaptable mindset.

business owner reading on computer about adaptability

2020 taught all of us patience, the importance of time management, and that it’s okay to take a break every now and then. Take the dog for a walk. Fold the laundry. Take time to meditate. Whatever it is that you need to do to take care of yourself and get the work done, that’s what you need to do to achieve adaptability in leadership, and with everything in general.

“Whether you like it or not, 2020 was all about being flexible, and there really was no other way to get through it,” Hosman said.

Changes to Budgeting & Forecasting

With the constant flux of the entire world economy, 2020 proved especially challenging when it came to budgeting and forecasting. Liz and her team found themselves not necessarily changing the way they budget and forecast but revisiting those budgets and forecasts far more frequently.

While they were primarily focused in 2020 on minimizing costs wherever possible, even now that we’re in 2021, they’re still constantly reviewing budgets and forecasts, in a constant state of update and review of what’s going on. They’re in perpetual contact with management teams to keep up to speed.

To help, they added a remote phone system which allowed their team to work more efficiently. They adopted new technologies and moved data to cloud. The firm also stepped away from a large bank and moved to a smaller, private bank which gave them more one-on-one attention.

While forecasting and budgeting remained somewhat the same in process, these small tweaks allowed the team to work together better to do their jobs.

The New Normal Could Be Better Than Ever

Given that 2020 taught us the need to be flexible, and given that finance professionals aren’t exactly known for their flexibility, how can we learn to be more agile as finance leaders? How do we learn to relax and step out of our comfort zone? What are the skills needed to become more flexible?

“It's clear that most of us are under a lot of stress. Whether you are working from home with a significant other or your kid is doing remote learning, it's very stressful in a lot of homes. And I just want to come to my desk every day with more compassion and come to my family every day with more compassion and try not to take things so personally," Hosman said.

adaptability in leadership

As a leader developing adaptability or working on leadership style, you have to focus on what will prepare you to roll with the punches day-in and day-out. For Hosman, this "new normal" has allowed her to focus on her yoga practice instead of wasting commuting time, while also giving her the opportunity to teach fitness classes outside of work.

Reaching personal goals, like Hosman's yoga practice, only helps leaders achieve higher in work and family.

Leaders Stepping Up Should Be Here to Stay - Adaptability in Leadership

Finally, 2020 completely altered the way that the leadership at March interacted with and delegated to their teams. They found themselves meeting more frequently, utilizing Slack much more than before, and checking in on one another regularly.

“We all knew that as leaders, we were going to have to show up and step up to get through 2020 as a team," Hosman said.

It didn’t hurt that March has six core values that they live and breathe, enabling leaders to shift rapidly. Those values, No spin, Be brave, Be Excellent, Be Productive, Show Up & Step Up, & Be Human, embody everything they do as an organization, and they knew that as leaders they were really going to have to show up and step up if they were going to get through 2020 as a team with any sort of culture still in place.

Liz Hosman Quote

Obviously, the world hasn’t magically been fixed now that it’s 2021. But hopefully, we all learned a few things about adaptability in leadership as we navigated the monster that was 2020, and hopefully, we can continue putting those positive changes into practice in 2021 and beyond.

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