Leadership and Adaptability Quotient (AQ): Moving from EQ to AQ

Dr. Brendan O'Brien

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership: The Rise of Adaptability Quotient (AQ)

Much has been written and understood in the development and leadership research literature on the importance of emotional intelligence over the last thirty-plus years.

Made prominent at the end of the last century by Daniel Goleman and other leading academics, most notably Peter Salovey, John Mayer, and Konstantinos Petrides, the term 'EQ' or 'EQ trait' was coined.

Indeed, it has been widely accepted that while cognitive intelligence (IQ) may help a person gain tertiary qualifications and eventually attain a leadership position, it is a person's level of EQ that may prove to be more predictive of whether they will achieve ultimate success in their career over time. However, this thinking may need to change. Or at least make room for an increasingly relevant adaptive concept.

The Importance of Adaptability

One of the initial reasons for attributing ongoing career success to EQ is our ability to understand and navigate our own emotions, as well as the feelings of others, to respond appropriately to any given challenging situation. For example, higher levels of EQ enable a person to build and maintain healthy connections with others and to leverage those relationships under challenging situations better to achieve outcomes consistently. As our environment becomes increasingly complex, more unsure and technology-driven with a faster and faster pace, another essential capability is emerging – our capacity to adapt.

The importance of adaptability is a well-regarded concept, with most people associating an ability to 'adapt to survive' with Darwin's notion of evolutionary success.

Adaptability Quotient (AQ)

While the above notions are not new, the belief that we can measure and develop our levels of adaptability is. At the Creative Thinking Institute, we have termed this your Adaptability Quotient or 'AQ'. A person's AQ will not only determine how they will thrive personally in the rapidly changing VUCA environment but also play a significant role in how effectively they can lead others through these increasingly chaotic times.

Definition of Adaptability Quotient

Regenemm healthcare project research has found AQ bubbling out of the EQ realm. However, there are some similar root components in each: self-awareness, personal management, and aspects of managing others. In the case of EQ, the central tenet is navigating emotions and applying social skills.

AQ incorporates these human elements and builds on them with 'flexible mindsets and abilities' to achieve more favorable outcomes. The Creative Thinking Institute, therefore, defines AQ as the capacity to:

Cope and thrive with change by demonstrating flexibility to self and others, remaining open and curious, unlearning and relearning, refocusing resilience to persist, delaying personal gratification for greater gain, applying problem-solving skills, and tolerating failure through to succeeding.

Elements of AQ within Leadership

  1. Flexibility: Flexible leaders role-model the message that changing thinking, practices, feelings, and ways of working or doing is okay. They embrace and include diversity and allow for the contribution of new thoughts, ideas, and approaches.
  2. Curiosity: A core component of adaptability is the capacity to remain open and curious. Leaders must be open to new concepts and suspend judgement to take in critical information for effective decision-making.
  3. Learning and Unlearning: Leaders must be willing to let go of the known, unlearn and relearn to succeed. The ability to adopt 'the new' by letting go of 'the old' is crucial.
  4. Refocused Resilience: This concept involves linking in with our highest-level purpose and goals, reframing setbacks as essential steps toward achieving what matters most in our lives and work.
  5. Tolerance for Failure: Building a tolerance for failure involves reframing failure as an opportunity to learn. This includes acknowledging and constructively handling one's errors and those of others.
  6. Problem-Solving Skills: This involves finding practical solutions to challenges and problems, engaging others in the process, and applying an iterative 'design process'.
  7. Delayed Gratification: This involves the discipline to stay on course and delay gratification for more significant gain, often counter-intuitive in today's age of instant gratification.

Developing Your AQ

In conclusion, higher levels of AQ are required for leaders to succeed in this present age of rapid change, uncertainty, and increasing work-life complexity. Here are some suggested changes to grow your own AQ or that of your leaders and people:

  • Flexibility: Embrace diversity by trying a different approach to a situation.
  • Curiosity: Be aware of your biases and suspend your judgement long enough to gain new information or perspectives.
  • Unlearning and Relearning: Permit yourself to understand that it may take some practice to become competent in something new.
  • Refocused Resilience: Be clear on your ultimate purpose and regularly focus on this to gain a renewed perspective on challenges.
  • Tolerance to Failure: Form the habit of asking 'What did I/we learn?' when things don't go as planned.
  • Problem Solving: Ask, 'What is the real problem I/we are trying to solve?' and find novel ways to test new ideas early.
  • Delayed Gratification: Build recognition and rewards linked to smaller milestones and identify intrinsic rewards for others.

Try these as new micro-habits to foster adaptability in our lives.

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