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Alchemy of Adaptability

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

In our rapidly evolving world, adaptation emerges as an increasingly critical leadership skill. The most effective leaders apply a vast range of well-established leadership skills, neurophysiological skills, and spiritual skills. Our capacity to access this broad range of skills enables us to accept change and navigate uncertainty while remaining grounded. In turn, this facilitates the psychological safety required for our teams to adjust, innovate, and iterate--i.e. adapt.

I visualize it as alchemy: taking a set of curveballs and—by applying the right skills at the right time—transmuting them to the gold of desired organizational outcomes.

Let's look at each skill set required to adapt effectively:

 Well-established leadership skills include initiating and implementing new strategy; reflective yet timely decision making; engaging and motivating teams.

 Neurophysiological skills include rewiring our nervous systems to feel safe and grounded amidst challenging, ambiguous circumstances. Feeling safe allows us to access the creativity in our prefrontal cortex, instead of getting stuck in the emotional and survival centers of our brain and allocating our biological resources to survival instead of creativity.

• Spiritual skills include acceptance and not just tolerating ambiguity--but surfing with ambiguity--which encompasses enjoyment; experimentation; agility; emotional, psychological, physical fitness; creativity, co-creation, collaboration with the unpredictable waves. Leaders who orient to reality quickly, accept it, then surf with ambiguity have a major advantage over those who don't.

To summarize this complex range of skills, I've organized them into a MAGICSEE framework:

Master Reality Orientation

Become expert at noticing what is really happening, vs what you want to happen. For example, post-COVID, most workers want the options of hybrid and remote work. Leaders who resist this aren't adapting well and have access to less talent.

Accept & Alchemize

Practice overcoming resistance and neutralizing toward new realities. An extra advanced skill is to fall in love with reality. Next, prepare to alchemize.

Galvanize and Motivate

Fire people up and engage your team. Get on the same page--or wave--of the new reality.

Initiate and Implement New Strategy

Confirm the long term vision and mission remain the same. Modify the short term strategy.

Create, Co-create, Collaborate

This includes creating and co-creating the psychological safety required to get the creative juices flowing. It includes collaborating with each other and the reality of the waves, instead of against them.

Surf with Ambiguity

Rewire your nervous system so not only can you tolerate ambiguity, but you surf with it as described above.


Repeat the process as you observe, experiment, and adjust. Small and subtle shifts in strategy may have a big impact. Approaching experiments with curiosity and playfulness—instead of stress, agitation, and a perception of being tortured—will improve quality of life.


Lastly and ideally—enjoy. We can either white-knuckle our way through this process with sleepless nights, panic attacks, and [insert stress symptom here], or we can train ourselves to enjoy the process. Enjoyment is a spiritual and neurophysiological skill, since it requires rewiring our nervous systems to feel safe, find pleasure, and be creative amidst an absence of predictability.

For a quick adaptability self-assessment, scan the MAGICSEE framework above. Which steps come naturally to you, and where do you get stuck? What would it take to get unstuck? Consider working with an executive coach, and/or have a goal setting conversation with a trusted colleague to strengthen the skills and steps that are more challenging.

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