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The Coaching Corner with Michael Riegel: Only the Strong Survive

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There are some aphorisms that seem cringe-worthy now that I am more experienced, more mature, and more introspective. This idea that it requires strength to survive feels as strange to me as if I were tasked with speaking a foreign language. And, who thought that survival was the goal? What about thriving, fulfillment, or happiness. The concept is generally attributed to Charles Darwin – incorrectly. He did not posit the premise of “survival of the fittest.” His theory was that survival was based on an ability to adapt and adjust.

We face shifting situations all the time that require adaptability and a willingness to adjust our mindset, approach, language, or perspective to both survive and thrive. In their research at Harvard, Heifitz and Linsky distinguish between technical and adaptive challenges. Technical challenges being those with readily available and defined solutions. Think of it as the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Adaptive challenges require experimentation because a past solution may not work again or might not be appropriate with someone else. These are tricky situations to navigate. Mostly because they involve other people. People with different needs, desires, perspectives, opinions, or experiences. Like any skill, we can learn to be more adaptable. Consider these approaches in your work and personal life:

Hard Opinions, Soft Opinions, No Opinions

Working in a team-oriented environment invariably raises a variety of opinions. Some are valuable, others less so, and some may feel more like bullying. As you lead others or are part of the team, consider which approach to select. Hard opinions are primarily for situations when there is no latitude for alternative approaches (compliance or set process). Soft opinions can be used when there is some room for creativity. If the team makes a solid case and the manager can understand the approach, give the freedom to move forward. The “no opinion” cases are those where you are open to any solution that gets the desired result – assuming it is on-time and on-budget. This concept will help in many areas: time management, delegation, project management.

Take Baby Steps

Adaptability, as a new skill, will not just happen without practice, self-awareness, or situational assessment. Look for the less critical situations to try out your new desire to adjust to challenges. A trapeze artist does not begin the journey by working without a safety net. That safety net, for you, may be in letting someone else take the lead on a project or program. This can be hard for many of us. We like things to be done a certain way. That uneasiness in “letting go” is the start of building your adaptability muscle.

Some aphorisms still hold their meaning. As a business owner, I am all in with Ben Franklin and “a penny saved is a penny earned.” We need to be smart and discriminating consumers of memes offering pithy aphorisms. We need to elevate beyond survival and that requires awareness and adaptability to reach a sense of personal fulfillment.

If you need to some help with taking that first step, you can reach me at

Michael Riegel


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