It’s a business cliche that everything’s changing all the time.
And that means it’s a business necessity that leaders know how to adapt.
That’s why, in clinical psychologist Leslie Patch’s 15 years of studying top managers, she’s found one characteristic that cuts across industries. As she details in her forthcoming book “Looks Good On Paper,” in her personality profiling of execs at places like GE, McDonald’s, and Merrill Lynch, she has found that active coping is the greatest predictor of managerial success.
“Active coping is being ready and able to adapt creatively and effectively to challenges and change,” she says in a statement. “Active copers continually strive to achieve personal aims and overcome difficulties, rather than passively retreat from or be overwhelmed by frustration.”
But this isn’t so much a skill as an outlook. Rather than viewing change as a threat, Patch says that active copers view it as opportunity. This requires two traits: stability and openness, all in one.
Put another way, active copers have what positive psychologists call “sisu”: an orientation to the world where difficulty is seen as opportunity, where you lean into a problem, try to understand it, and push yourself and the situation to shape the best possible outcome.
You can see this courageous openness in our most beloved leaders.
For Patch, Nelson Mandela is a prime example. He “decided to get smart rather than get angry” when he was imprisoned, and he learned Afrikaans so he could understand his political opposites.
“He kept his eye on his goal and was willing to switch tactics, embrace opponents, invent new forms of interaction,” she says. Plus, “he did it all with style, charm, and balance.”
Another example is Kathryn Graham, who was publisher of the Washington Post during the paper’s golden era. The decision of whether to publish the Pentagon Papers, which revealed government deceptions about Vietnam, came to her just before her company made an IPO. Doing so risked prosecution, but she approved the move. The paper subsequently made history.
Patch recommends a few strategies for cultivating the qualities of an active coper. They are:
• Know what you want. It’s hard to navigate a situation to reach your goals unless you know what your goals are.
• Take the freedom to act. Instead of doing what feels easiest, do what’s actually most beneficial.
• Deal with resistance. Instead of withdrawing into yourself or lashing out at other people, meet the situation directly.
The benefits of active coping extend beyond business.
“Active copers experience each twist and turn in life — even unavoidable losses such as deaths of close relatives or their own impending death — as an opportunity as well as a loss,” Patch says. “With each new moment, active copers ask: What can I learn from this event? How can I use this event to strengthen my commitment to the ideals that I pursue? What’s really happening now, and what is the healthiest response that I can make?”
NOW WATCH: Ideas videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.