What Is Your Adaptability Quotient (A.Q.)?

What Is Your Adaptability Quotient (A.Q.)?

When I think of adaptability, I think of the many incredible athletes who have had to overcome the odds in order to excel at their sport. One such athlete is surfer Bethany Hamilton. In 2003, when Bethany was only 13 years old, she lost her left arm to a shark attack. Having already won surfing competitions, Bethany faced the difficult task of not only recovering from a major injury, but deciding if and how she would reenter the competitive world. 

Bethany participated in her first major competition only three months after the shark attack. This quick and amazing turnaround can be attributed to her determination and adaptability. She taught herself to surf with only one arm by kicking more and adding a handle to her surfboard. To me, Bethany Hamilton is the perfect example of adaptability– her world suddenly changed and instead of just resigning herself to pain or sadness, she looked around, assessed her situation, and made the changes necessary to thrive, in spite of her pain and sadness.  

Not many of us will face challenges quite like Bethany, but we still must consider what it means for us to be adaptable. Especially in today’s times, it seems like we could experience a number of setbacks at any moment. Our lives will not go smoothly 100% of the time. It is important that we know how to adapt and move forward when something unexpected does happen. But how?

Consider the following do’s and don’t as it relates to our posture toward adaptability:

A few “stop doing” items:

  • Stop feeling sorry for yourself– We all face let downs in life, and when this happens it’s natural to feel disappointed. However, dwelling in this disappointment will not do any good. Acknowledge the feeling and move on.
  • Don’t assume there is just one right outcome– Adapting means accepting a certain level of uncertainty. There is more than one way to solve a problem.
  • Stop looking to cast blame– Many times, there is no one to blame for a problem arising. And even when there is, it is unproductive to spend your time looking for the culprit instead of figuring out a way forward.
  • Abandon negative self talk– Much like feeling sorry for yourself, this doesn’t lead anywhere. Putting yourself down will only make it harder to adapt. Instead, engage in positive self talk: “You can do this. You have what it takes to adapt and thrive.”

A few “start doing” items: 

  • Assess the moment– Take a moment to analyze what’s going on. Consider what is the most important and what should be a priority. Decide what is and what isn’t valuable knowledge.
  • Decide what your role should be– Whatever problem arises, your role will probably need to change and adapt. Ask yourself “What will my new role be?” This will require some self-reflection, but it is vital to adapting well.
  • Think on your feet– Adapting means thinking quickly. You must prepare yourself to act decisively and effectively. 

My friend Cynthia has recently had to adapt to a new situation. When the COVID-19 crisis began, she was furloughed from her long-time job as a teacher. While she was disappointed to lose her job, she realized that this was just one of the consequences of the times. She began looking for other schools where she could teach, however, options were limited due to the pandemic. Cynthia had to think quickly and creatively about what to do. 

She knew she needed to work to provide for her family and she knew she was a great teacher. She also realized that there were probably students who could no longer get the in-person instruction they needed, so she began looking for online teaching jobs. She was able to find a job teaching English to Spanish speaking students. In addition, Cynthia needed to secure another part-time job to make ends meet and decided to think about the places she frequents, like retail and grocery stores. Though it is something she has never done before, she landed a job in the deli of a grocery store and really enjoys it. Can you identify how Cynthia may have applied the do’s and don’t above to her situation? 

What are the circumstances in your life that are compelling enough for you to consider adapting?  How will you adapt moving forward?

Yasser Youssef is the president of The Budd Group, one of the leading facility service companies in the country, a North Carolina-based company that provides facility support services in the Southeast. Throughout his career, Youssef has met leaders from all backgrounds, and believes leadership is for everyone. Over the past few years, he has developed an affinity for writing and contributing thought leadership, and is often asked to speak to businesses throughout the country about authentic leadership.

Want to continue the conversation? Subscribe to Yasser Youssef’s blog or contact him to talk about speaking engagements.  



My friend Jim recently returned from a great Caribbean vacation, enjoying the sun, the beach and a few fruity drinks. On his first day back in the office, his phone rings. It’s his manager: “Good morning Jim, can you please come to my office for a few minutes?”

“Sure, be right there.”

“Jim, thanks for coming over. I hope you had a great vacation. I want to talk with you about a new management opportunity with our company. We think you would be able to make an impact on the business and the team, and really grow professionally.”


Here we go, thinks Jim.  For the past five years, I have been working so hard in operations, looking for the next step, and it’s finally here. At last, I get to go in and change things up, make all the decisions, all the best decisions.  Finally, I get what I deserve; they recognize my talent.

“Jim, are you still with me?”

“Of course.”

“Well there is one other thing I need to share with you about your new management roll.”

“Great, what is it?”

“I don’t want you to make any changes, share any opinions, or basically say anything in meetings for at least 90 days.”


And this is how the story begins. Imagine you’re in Jim’s place. You are a new manager, coming into a new position to work with an existing team. Imagine that you are promoted or hired because the business needs you to fix something or take it to the next level. It’s all up to you. But, you can’t say anything for 90 days. Feels like you’ll be wasting precious time, right?

Most people are actually in shock when I tell them, after hiring them or promoting them, that I want them to keep quiet for three months. And I always remember to say, “Really, I mean that.”

What do you do for the first 90 days if you aren’t talking?  

The question is how do you engage a team without talking? What are some of the things you can do to use this time of silence to maximum effect? The first thing you’ll need to do is accept that you don’t have to make change immediately. In fact, sometimes it’s important for leaders to figure out a way to slow down. Slowing down allows anyone to take stock of what’s really going on, which will help create an effective plan of change later on. A code of silence might be just what’s needed to force the speed reduction.

Schedule observation time

Rather than planning your motivational speeches for your first official staff meeting, use that time to observe the existing team. Schedule individual observation time with the members of your team. Shadowing your team will really help you learn what they do and how they do it. The best thing about scheduling this observation time individually is that you’re on their turf. Often times as a new leader you invite people to your office. That sets up a certain power dynamic right from the get-go. But entering into your teammates’ spaces individually provides a more equanimous introduction. I encourage any new leaders to really engage in the observation process. Take a lot of notes, then make sure to write a thank-you note. In that note, let the individual know you noticed what they do and what they do well. I would even encourage you to schedule another observation time a month or two later. Continue the dialogue.

Focus on trust-building

After you’ve observed everyone on your team, the information you’ve gathered is going to provide you with a 360-degree perspective of how your business unit operates. But you’re also building relationships and trust. Over the years I’ve noticed that in turnaround situations there’s a huge premium on relationships. You just can’t underestimate the power of relationships. To that end, the best way you can start building those relationships is recognizing the positive things each team member is doing and communicating your observations to them and the team!

Listening and engaging your team will serve as a way for you to establish trust during your first 90 days because it will introduce you to your team as someone who values them and whose goal is to work with them, not to eliminate them or change what they are doing. Asking questions is a powerful tool to affirm the trust building process.  Try something called “
Humble Inquiry.” It’s the art of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person. When we engage in humble inquiry, we ask a lot of questions. Choose to be a student of your team members, practicing humble inquiry, for 90 days or longer.

Alternative group meetings

One of the most obvious and impactful events you can schedule instead of a staff meeting, since you’re not allowed to talk, is a meal together with your team. If you have the budget, then a lunch or breakfast off campus would be ideal. You could also do something simple like invite your team to eat together outside, go for a group walk or tour somewhere, or rely on the trusty happy hour to help break the ice!

It’s important to keep this event in a neutral setting (off campus is preferable) and focus on the relational side. This is also about relationship building. You’re getting to know your team for who they are outside of work, too. You’ll also be showing that you’re a member of the team, not some outsider who is there to tell them what to do. Connecting with people at the emotional level is a great way to go to the rational level organically.

Self-reflection is critical to growth

When you’re not busy talking, coming up with solutions and making changes, you have time to be still and reflect. During this time, you should also be observing yourself. A new position can be a big adjustment, and this time of reflection will allow you to take time to observe your own impulses and make better decisions rather than rushing into any.

Sometimes people will think that the 90-day rule of silence means they are going through a 90-day training. It’s not a training; it’s about getting that individual to be a part of the organization by understanding how it works, and how they fit into it.

So, back to Jim. How do you think his story ends? What happens to Jim and his team? What would you do if you were Jim? In your world, is there a new opportunity for you to engage in a 90-day observation and learning role?  Even if you haven’t recently been promoted or hired to a new role, is there opportunity to slow down, pause and incorporate the above strategies for success? Think about it, and see how long you can go without talking.