The ability to learn from and adjust to new situations is an incredibly valuable asset. It’s an asset that is manifested in learning to be flexible about things like working in the trenches of a family business, all the way to engaging in the high-level strategic activities related to the business.
There’s a situation I recall that provided me an opportunity to learn a new language, though I didn’t see it as much of an opportunity at the time. It required that I adapt, regardless of how uncomfortable I was – and, quickly.
On this occasion, my father had sent me to a board meeting in Germany. I got there, sat down, and the board meeting began: in German.
Note, one unique quality about my family is how well many of us can learn and retain new languages. Between my siblings and me, we can speak several languages, following in the footsteps of my maternal grandfather, who published in several languages. However, I didn’t speak a word of German, and I sat through that whole board meeting unable to understand a thing. When I left, all I could think was, “How can I integrate all this?”
I was there for a reason and I needed to adapt. I couldn’t let a language barrier keep me from doing my job. Right after that meeting, I found a language education center and took twenty-six hours of German. When the second board meeting came around, I walked in, sat down, heard everything they said in German, understood some of it, and wrote down questions as we went along. Then I turned around and spoke my questions to them in broken German.
They were blown away, as I hoped. My intention had been to adjust to their way of doing things. In the process of taking the time to learn their language—if even on a very basic level—I’d shown them that I was willing to do what was needed to make our partnership succeed. I gained their respect for the duration of that partnership—it was sehr gut!
As humans, we typically crave comfort. It’s not fun to feel uncomfortable – which change, and new situations, often provoke in us. However, when we recognize that the nature of business is just that, constant change, we can begin to embrace it and anticipate it. When we are willing to adapt, we grow, learn, and progress. As a result, our businesses grow, learn, and progress. It will be challenging and sometimes overwhelming, but, be quick to adapt – doing so will ensure the longevity of your business.