Bouncebackability and Adaptability: Two sides of the same coin.

Adaptability, Flexibility & Resilience

What will Adaptability do for you and your Teams?

Adaptability enables us to respond effectively to new situations, challenges, and changes, whether they are expected or not. Flexibility provides the willingness and ability to adjust one’s plans, behaviours, or expectations in response to shifting circumstances without becoming rigid or resistant. Resilience is the capacity of individuals, communities, and systems to withstand, recover from, and even grow more robust in the face of adversity, setbacks or hardships. How well can you bounce back from difficulty, convert a weakness into a strength, and turn an apparent threat into an opportunity?

Adaptability enables you - as a leader - to be more agile in the face of uncertainty and empowers others to follow your bold challenge.

Flexibility improves how you navigate change, adjust your plans, and create opportunities for your team to build capacities and competencies to respond to change.

Resilience will show you how to bounce back from adverse challenges, adapt to change, build back better and create and maintain a sense of well-being and purpose.


We have all been there, have we not? Just as you think you are on the right course to introduce something new or respond to a challenge facing you for some time, the unexpected occurs. We will think or say, “Where did that come from!”

The unexpected will make us feel less prepared; it will make us realise that we do not have all the answers we thought we had, and, initially, it might just dent our confidence. However, we can turn the challenge into an opportunity by exercising adaptability.

“So, how can you be more Adaptive? We will explore the two mindsets of being flexible and resilient.


  • When you are facing an uncertain situation, how do you react?
  • Refrain from accepting the unexpected.

Embrace uncertainty, nurture it and build on it. Turn it from a weakness into a strength and view it as an opportunity, not a threat.

Be persistent. Turning a weakness into a strength takes time and consistent effort. Be patient with yourself (and others). Be committed to your goals, even when you face setbacks.

Failures can lead to great inventions, discoveries, and products. Thomas Edison’s perseverance in his thousands of attempts before creating the light bulb is a testament to this. He once said, ‘Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up’. He also said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. “Edison’s persistence led to life-changing inventions and inspired others. In terms of genius, he tells us that this “accounts for one per cent; ninety-nine per cent is through perspiration.”

Learn the lessons from failure and see the setback as an opportunity for your team or organisation to absorb, grow, and quickly transform the impediment into an innovation.

How to Bounce Back and be more effective

Sometimes, the unexpected may adversely react to what you have been trying to achieve. It will test your commitment to resilience. How hardy are you? Are you robust in responding to this unfortunate turn of events, and are you willing to set a big hairy, audacious goal (to coin the phrase from Jim Collins’ classic work published as “Good to Great”)? Are you prepared to take brave and bold steps to overcome this apparent setback?

Responding to setbacks is the most complex challenge for adaptability. Disappointment will often result from the adverse impact. It is unlikely to whet one’s motivation initially. However, the practice of reflection will soon turn a bad situation into a springboard for success.

A Weeble is a symbol for bouncebackability.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘Bouncebackability’ as:

“The capacity to recover quickly or fully from a setback, bad situation, etc”

Bouncebackability was the description given by Iain Dowie for why the football team he managed (Crystal Palace) achieved promotion to the English Premier League in England in 2004 just one year after they lost the play-off final the year before. It was due to “Bouncebackability”. Some have suggested that Dowie coined the phrase which eventually entered the Oxford English Dictionary, although as the OED informs us, the use of the term (still originating with sport) can be traced back to 1961.

(The Tribe demonstrated its bounce-back ability in a three-game series with Washington, taking the set 2-1.
Times Recorder (Zanesville, Ohio) 18 April 1961).


See the Unexpected as Opportunities. Consider our response to the unexpected as a journey of discovery. Creative thinking distinguishes an emboldened and enthusiastic leader from a traditional manager. Leaders who have experienced crises are more likely to adapt by adopting a calm and rational approach to a presenting challenge and have more confidence to step outside their comfort zones. Leadership challenges are seen as opportunities to learn continually. Such leaders do not rely on what they know or even accept that they know that there are some things they do not know. The real challenge is to target what they do not know, what they do not know!

From Trial-and-Error to Sustained Success. Try, try and try again. Keep a note of what you change in each iteration of trials. Don’t just focus on ‘fixing the presenting problem’. This is what is called ‘single-loop’ learning. It is a basic form of learning that involves making adjustments and solving problems within an existing framework or set of rules without challenging or questioning underlying assumptions. Challenge the current goals, values, and assumptions and frame change within an open and not a closed system perspective. In contrast, double-loop learning involves a more profound and transformative shift in thinking and behaviour. You seek to understand why problems occur in the first place and whether the fundamental principles need to be revised.

To be Human is to be Humble. Be unpretentious in what you achieve and celebrate setbacks as a means to improvement. Referring back to Jim Collins (Good to Great), the best leaders are self-effacing and show humility. We are, after all, only humans, and all humans will fail at some things. To build back better, we need to know what is better than what has existed. To acknowledge failure is to be humble, but to see this as a learning opportunity is a critical characteristic of exemplary and adaptive leadership. Bouncebackability is the art of turning failure into success.


Whether in terms of flexibility or resilience, the overall skill is to be agile. Agility is about being alert to what is happening around you, being responsive in terms of what you will do about it and being swift in taking action. Most importantly, adaptability through flexibility is acknowledging that there is often a different way of thinking and responding. Thinking fast and thinking slow are both necessary. ‘Thinking fast’ is our default mode of thinking, which allows us to make quick decisions and respond rapidly to familiar situations. We use our intuition to arrive at conclusions. Thinking fast is highly efficient but can lead to biases based on familiarity. ‘Thinking slow’ is used when facing complex or novel problems that demand careful consideration and when we must override intuitive but potentially biased judgments. The critical skill for the leader is to know when to think fast and when to think slow.

Your Checklist for Adaptable Leadership

In building flexibility and resilience, think more deeply about your perceptions and feelings. Reflection is looking “in the mirror” to understand the “here and now”—reflexivity concerns “looking through the mirror” to design a better future.

Can you be more Flexible?

  • When you are facing an uncertain situation, how do you react?
  • How do you feel?
  • Can you develop a mindset for thinking differently?

Think about the practical and emotional responses to crises or unanticipated happenings.

There are practical and emotional responses to crises or unanticipated happenings.

Be more Resilient

  • What can you do differently now?
  • How will you do this?
  • What will you do differently in the future?

In building resilience,
think more deeply, about your perceptions and feelings.

Reflection is looking "in-the-mirror" to understand the "here-and-now".
Reflexivity is looking through the mirror - what action can you take in the future?

Your key challenge

Your key challenge will be to develop adaptability in directing actions towards your organisation’s vision and goals whilst building your resilience to respond to setbacks and failures. A flexible leader can bounce back from adversity and maintain a positive attitude, which will be contagious within the team. Keeping informed about industry trends, best practices in leadership and new technologies and being committed to learning and self-improvement will help you be more flexible and innovative in your leadership role.

Pay attention to the following reflective questions and take action where you can close some of the gaps in your adaptive, flexible and resilient leadership style.

Be more self-aware. Knowing how you lead will help you to be more adaptable.

  • Do you know your strengths as a leader and your areas for development?
  • What are your natural inclinations which drive your leadership style?
  • Are you committed to personal leadership learning and development?
  • How do you think and how do you act?

How are you with those whom you lead? A positive mindset to meet your team’s and the organisation’s needs is a recipe for success

  • Do you actively listen to your team members, respond receptively with constructive feedback and respect differing cultural norms and values?
  • Do you see things from others’ perspectives and tailor your style to your team’s needs?
  • Do you trust your team members to respond to tasks and responsibilities and provide mentoring and coaching support where necessary?

How will you lead?

  • Do you balance your time between strategic thinking and day-to-day operations by focusing on critical issues while addressing immediate challenges?
  • Are you open to change and willing to think about things differently, be prepared to tackle unexpected challenges, and confidently manage conflict and difficult conversations?
  • Do you encourage experimentation within your team, and are you open to learning from new approaches that do not achieve your goals whilst embracing and promoting those that succeed?

Good luck on your journey to being an adaptable leader.

The Selfless Leader