Adjusting to Unexpected Change

I run a half dozen road races every year. I have my training plan, and goal times in place well before I start. I register for races early and immediately build a 12 week training scheduled into my life. A few years ago, my plans were suddenly thrown out the window when extreme heat changed my half-marathon into a five miler.

I love running the Red, White and Boom half marathon because, it’s on the fourth of July, it is in my neighborhood, and it’s a fun race in the middle of summer! You can imagine my lack of “Boom” when I read the email stating,

The third annual Red, White & BOOM! TC Half Marathon course has been shortened to 5 miles due to dangerous heat conditions.

Seriously? I paid for 13.1 miles not 5! I’ve been training for 13.1 miles not 5. I was set to break my previous best time! How do I even pace a five miler?

Being Adaptable

In leadership, as in running, inevitably you will encounter unexpected change. The only constant is that there is no constant. Despite my meticulous planning, things ALWAYS come up during a training cycle that force me to adapt. I think I’m an especially good at adapting when necessary because of my StrengthsFinder theme of Adaptability. It allows me to go with the flow, even when things do not go as planned.

In leadership, you will find yourself in unpredictable situations, and face questions you don’t know how to answer. Rather than let that derail you, here are three things that I have found helpful when facing uncertainty.

  1. How long before I need to react to the change? In Great by Choice, Jim Collins writes, “Sometimes acting too fast increases risk. Sometimes acting too slow increases risk. The critical question is, ‘How much time before your risk profile changes?’” Fast decisions aren’t always good. How much time do you have before you NEED to make a decision? Is it a day, month, year? In my case, I had two days. Just over 48 hours before I was going to be racing. There wasn’t much I could do to change the outcome of that race in that period of time.
  2. What goals do I need to change? It’s unrealistic for you to keep the same goals and expectations when they are no longer realistic. I certainly couldn’t expect the same results from a five miler as a half-marathon. I adjusted my pace based on what I knew of my own ability. When a target has shifted, a self-aware leader knows how to compensate accordingly. Maybe a deadline has changed, or resources cut. If you don’t adjust, you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment or disaster.
  3. Make a decision! Do you suffer from paralysis by analysis? When things change sometimes we can’t or won’t act differently. After you’ve assessed the new environment, measured your options, and reevaluate your goals – step into action. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. I hadn’t raced five miles in college, so I looked at it as an adventure. They key is that you act!

Not Being Adaptable

Not everyone is adaptable. You can go through those questions, and still find it difficult to adjust on the fly. This is when partnering with someone else who is more adaptable is beneficial. This is why we’re constantly trying to build strong teams. Where your strengths end, another persons can begin.

I appreciate the action taken by the Twin Cities in Motion race organizers. They made a tough, quick decision (#1), adjusted their expectations and goals (#2), and communicated to the participants and put on a fantastic race (#3). They also gave us $25 towards another race. I had a great run.

Question: What goals have you set that may need to be adjusted now that new information has come to light?