I’ve been reminded in multiple ways recently that stress can stand in the way of our ability and willingness to adapt, both personally and organizationally.
When our nervous system is on high alert, our tendency is to self-protect. In that state, it’s very hard for us to be curious, to listen well, or to stay open to new experiences. We can easily get stuck in unhelpful patterns simply because we are so overwhelmed by demands and ongoing volatility that we can’t bear to introduce change in yet another area of our life — even if that change is positive and wanted.
Organizations aren’t much different. If they are in survival mode, concerned about where their next grant will come from or whether they can make payroll, their otherwise creative leaders will likely be too distracted to be imaginative.
It’s possible that this stress will masquerade as other things — frustration or cautiousness or the appearance of being resistant to change — but don’t be fooled by the miscue. If you’re in a position to ease the pressure — maybe by providing stable funding or extending deadlines or even offering words of encouragement — you might be surprised by the creativity and agility that get unleashed.