In my ideal manager world the people and situations I encounter day-to-day fit me perfectly: events happen at my pace and on my timeline, so I never need to be flexible; others always agree with my perspective, so there’s no need for me to try to understanding theirs; people “get me” and can read my mind, so I don’t have to work at communicating; I never make a mistake, so there’s never anything to own or apologize for; others naturally do what I want, so I never have to confront or have a difficult conversation; and since everything in my perfect world already fits me perfectly, stress is foreign to me, so I don’t have to learn how to manage it. I am the center of my perfect universe, and everybody and everything in it conforms exactly to what works for me.

And then my alarm goes off, and I wake up.

In the real world, circumstances don’t always—and sometimes rarely—align with my preferences. Deadlines don’t always fit my work schedule. My peers and employees are neither my clones nor my servants. And for us to do excellent work together, we’ll need much more than what I personally bring to the table. This means that for me to be an effective leader I need to adapt myself to this reality and use my authority and skill to help unlock the potential around me. And yet the “skills” that allow me to do this are unlike the many other, more “technical” skills I bring to my job.

To clarify this concept, let's compare adaptive skills to the other kinds of skills we bring to our work:

  • Job Specific Skills – These are the skills I use every day that I wouldn’t use if I changed career tracks: using a CAD/CAM program, repairing a diesel engine, writing software code, etc.

  • Transferrable Skills – These are more general skills that I could also use in a different career track: general computer skills, public speaking, facilitating a meeting, etc.

  • Adaptive Skills – These are the skills I brought with me from childhood and that form the foundation of my success in almost everything I do, professionally and personally. (These are roughly synonymous with the concept of Emotional IQ, but that’s another article.)

Consider the following examples of adaptive skills:

  • Listening so that others feel heard. (According to research, people who feel heard feel cared about.)

  • Receiving feedback non-defensively. (If I get up the guts to give you feedback about something, and you punish me by being defensive, what will I do differently next time? Right! I won’t talk to you about my concerns, because I’ll consider you “unapproachable.”)

  • Giving corrective feedback without creating defensiveness. (Telling your truth while staying connected relationally.)

  • Seeing a situation from another’s point of view.

  • Exercising my authority when I’d rather be the “nice guy.”

  • Owning mistakes quickly and proactively.

  • Staying calm and engaged while experiencing strong emotions.

  • Being clear and direct in my communication.

I bet that if you scanned your memory banks and thought of the most challenging managers you’ve worked for, they weren’t difficult because they lacked intelligence or expertise. Rather, I suspect it’s because of their lack of adaptive skills, which usually comes right alongside a general inability to see the impact they have on those around them. In contrast, the healthiest leaders we see aren’t perfect, but they’ve decided to make growth in their adaptive skills a professional development priority.

If we fail to recognize the impact we have on those around us and fail to adapt in order to engage with them more effectively, we (and others) will suffer. Listening so people feel respected, showing up nondefensively, controlling our emotional impulses and owning our mistakes – these skills are vital to the health of our relationships. Luckily, with practice and patience, these skills can be learned.

The big question, of course, is “how do I improve my adaptive skills?”

In our workshops, we spend hours examining and dissecting the path to growing and developing our adaptive skills. There is simply too much to share in this blog post, so instead we’ll direct you to the relevant episodes of The Managing with Mind & Heart Podcast in which we really dig into this whole adaptive skills thing. Some of the episodes will explore the concept of adaptive skills, and others (such as our episodes on giving and receiving feedback) will help you to work on developing specific adaptive skills. Check them out on all major podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Play. (And if you find this podcast valuable, please support us by leaving a review – it helps other people find our show.)

Ep.04 – The Periodic Table of Skills (Adaptive Skills 1/2)
Join Mike and Ethan Nash as they sip on cheap wine and get vulnerable about their growth opportunities. In this episode, they explore one of Nash Consulting’s core principles: the importance of continually developing your adaptive skills. The elder and younger Nash dissect the three different types of skills, discuss the most vital type of skills for managerial and personal success, the relationship between adaptive skills and emotional IQ, and why we must always have one eye on growing and developing ourselves in order to be effective managers.

Ep.05 – Are You Even Listening to Me? (Adaptive Skills 2/2)
In part 2 of our Adaptive Skills series, father and son duo Mike and Ethan Nash get down to the basics of how to grow and develop the most important skills for managerial and personal success. Adaptive skills are the skills that we brought with us from childhood, and they make or break our success as adults. You might be thinking, “If I didn’t bring these skills with me from childhood, I guess I’m screwed.” Wrong! The Nash’s explain the formula for growing and developing these skills, and then dive into a specific adaptive skill that Mike is still working on (hint: it requires him to shut up every so often).

Ep.06 – The Truth Can Hurt (Receiving Feedback)
Join Mike and Ethan Nash as they attempt to hack the evolutionary tendency to get defensive. Defensiveness is a fear response, and all our fearless ancestors were eaten by saber-tooth tigers. This episode is all about how to receive feedback non-defensively, even if the feedback is untrue. They discuss why defensiveness is built into us, why it’s not as useful today, how to stay connected with your colleagues so you can hear the truth, and why you simply cannot be an effective manager unless your employees know it’s “safe” to give you feedback.

Ep.07 – The S*** Sandwich (Giving Feedback 1/3)
Ethan gives his dad some tough feedback as they discuss an important topic on which leaders often get bad advice. This episode is on how to give feedback in a way that tells your truth while also keeping you connected relationally to the other person. We’ve often heard leaders proudly claim that they have a “feedback rich culture” in their organization. Although this may be true, these feedback cultures are not always healthy ones. In this episode Mike and Ethan discuss the pitfalls of delivering feedback poorly, why the feedback sandwich (AKA the s*** sandwich) can be problematic, and the fundamentals of successfully delivering difficult feedback.

Ep.08 – The Graduate School of Feedback (Giving Feedback 2/3)
In the last episode, Mike and Ethan Nash broke down the basics of delivering feedback in a way that actually communicates your truth while still keeping you connected relationally to the other person. Now it’s time to crank it up a notch. Welcome to the graduate-level course of giving feedback. In part 2, the Nash team explains why you can only give feedback about one thing: behavior. Not attitudes, not intentions, only behavior. They break down the three elements of good feedback: behavior, the impact of that behavior and replacement behavior. Additionally, they touch on the pitfalls of giving feedback via email or notes…a big no-no.


You can’t really change your IQ. However, the good news is that you can improve your EQ (your emotional intelligence), which is closely related to adaptive skills. And guess which one, according to research, is most important to living a successful and happy life (and in many cases, most important to career success). You guessed it: EQ. It’s all about being committed to personal growth.