2 Ways Honorable Leaders Can Adapt Quickly

In the childhood fable, The Tortoise and the Hare, the story ends with “slow and steady wins the race.” Does it really? As leaders, we’ve been bombarded the last few months with fast changes that require the ability to adapt quickly. It’s in seasons like this one that steady and consistent are our foes.

And like Leading with Honor coaches leaders every day, human nature is that our default habits and choices are heavily driven by our natural behavior.

“Like a 100-car freight train operating on Newton’s first law of motion, most leaders don’t change direction easily. Inertia is natural, but adaptation is often essential.” [Tweet This]

Adapting Early in Life

When I arrived at the Hanoi Hilton POW camp, it was clear that my fellow comrades and I would have to adapt—but after a year or so, prison life eventually became the norm. Daily decisions were few and far between. Then after our release many years later, we had to quickly adapt again—fortunately, this shift was easier and more pleasant for the most part.

For me, the most challenging shift was having to make many small decisions each day. Freedom and the choices available in life and especially shopping for endless options like cereal or toiletries was stressful. l finally decided on a philosophy of “just pick one, and if you don’t like it don’t buy it again”.

Watch my coaching clip on adapting in leadership to give you more insight:

Now as we’re approaching a shift back to the old normal, we must consider some areas where the old normal won’t work well. Most leaders know that they must adapt to changing situations as well as the unique natural behaviors of others, but they don’t know how.

Here are two models that can serve you well in that process –

Model #1 – The OODA Loop

In leadership, like most areas of life, it’s unwise to adapt by just leaping into the unknown. Instead, it’s best to be more intentional. The OODA Loop was developed by John Boyd, a physics minded fighter pilot instructor back in the 1960s, at the Air Force’s Fighter Weapons School (think Top Gun). OODA is an acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.

Its original application was to help fighter pilots make good on-the-spot decisions in the stress of aerial combat. Over time, it’s proven a good way to become intentional for adapting—especially when you are operating in a rapidly changing environment that you can’t control.

Here are some questions to ask on each step of this loop –

In the first step, Observe, this is the time to gather relevant information and data. Then it moves to Orient which is about connecting the dots and reflecting on the options and challenges. Continuing clockwise, Decide is based on opportunities, needs, and resources. And finally, we must develop a plan and Act to execute the plan. Obviously, in an aerial dogfight, this is all done in seconds. But in most situations, the goal is to have a process that will help you be intentional and wise about moving to action.

Model #2 – The Courageous Accountability Model

“It’s important to remember that quick decisions mean nothing if a leader can’t thoughtfully communicate his or her plan in a way that energizes others.” [Tweet This]

Barking orders is an old school method of leading, and it will no longer work in our current work culture.

Once the decision is made and you’re ready to act, follow the four steps on the right side of our Courageous Accountability Model ™ to be a well-rounded, honorable leader.

This is also designed to be a cyclical model where a leader will repeat these steps on a regular basis –


    • Make sure that mission, vision, values, policies, and guidelines are clear.
    • Make sure people understand what outcomes are expected and what resources and ground rules are in place. Solicit questions and listen to make sure people see the same picture.


    • Know your people’s unique talents (strength/struggles) and manage each person uniquely.
    • Connect with the heart by making people feel valued and important.


    • Develop a proactive mindset about collaboration. Welcome it; support it.
    • Dialogue as needed and provide ongoing feedback to encourage and correct.


    • Celebrate successes.
    • Confront problem issues with confidence and humility.
    • Critique the process for continual improvement.

The Drive to Confidently Adapt

If history can teach us anything, it’s that we must constantly adapt, especially when there are major shifts in economics or the culture. We’re having both right now, so get ready to adapt quickly yet confidently by having tools or models that can guide you.

Following these two models will give you a process of intentionality that will greatly increase your likelihood of success. Please try them and let us know how they work for you. Others would love to hear your experience.


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The new “Engage with Honor Group Training Guide” can help train your entire team by learning the Courageous Accountability Model.

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