A couple of weeks ago we wrote a post on Personal Agility and a lot of you wrote back with specific questions about how to develop your personal agility in various situations. Last Monday, we wrote about how to handle critical feedback or a vote of no confidence from your team. This week we want to address what you can do when someone with authority asks you to take on something outside of your skill set.

For some people, being asked to do something entirely new is a thrill. They love the challenge and the adrenaline rush of taking on something that has both risk and opportunity attached. But many people find that these kinds of requests fill them with anxiety and a sense of impending doom. Not that they always show it, but inside . . .

One recent example of this is our client, Maxine. Maxine has been in a leadership role in engineering within a consumer electronics company, and she has loved her role. Over the past couple of years, the company has had some significant challenges and many of those have showed up as a lack of engagement and innovative problem-solving at all levels of the company. Maxine was recently asked to step into the role of leading an engagement process and while she can build their technology without a thought, building a culture of engagement shook her to her foundation.

Maxine came to us to help her take on the complex effort of culture change, asking for support to get traction and accelerate both her own and her company’s success. This is what we told her:

Personal agility is not about magically knowing how to do something you don’t know how to do. We define personal agility as the ability to respond quickly and nimbly to an obstacle you face by pausing to stay emotionally present (to yourself and others) and then taking action on your own behalf or on behalf of those you care about.

So her goal in this instance was to keep the panic at bay and take action on her own behalf and that of her organization.

There are 5 key steps to effectively stepping into a new area:

  1. Respond enthusiastically to the request while honestly assessing what you will need to do to succeed.
  2. It matters that you respond enthusiastically because it’s a communication that you are willing to genuinely look at how you can be a leader on an effort that is deeply valued. You may need additional expertise in terms of content and/or a coach or consultant who can support your efforts, a team of leaders and staff interested in this initiative, a budget to provide opportunities for a different kind of engagement, etc.

  3. Let the person or team who made the request know what you believe is necessary to be successful.
  4. You will need a rationale for what you are asking for and it’s important to remember that it may not be possible for those needs to be met. It is critical to know that up front. If your requests cannot be met, you will need to explain the potential risks of moving forward with your limited skill set without additional support.

  5. Take small steps to move forward.
  6. Once you get underway it is often best to take small steps so that with each step you can assess how you are doing and if you are heading in the right direction.

  7. Remain in dialogue with the person or team making the request.
  8. Share your thinking, the steps you have taken, and the results you have gotten. Engage them in considering what else may need to be addressed to succeed.

  9. When something goes well—thank all involved. If something derails—apologize and ask for support and guidance.
  10. We know that seems wonky but it’s true. You will be more effective if you recognize the efforts of others (since they will then want to continue to assist you), and you will be respected if when something derails, you own it and move forward.

This week, consider how to apply this in your life. It may be at work or in coaching one of your kids on how to deal with a homework assignment that stretches them. Whatever the specific issue, explore how these 5 steps can be helpful to developing personal agility.

If you haven’t bought one yet, our new book Claim Your Power: 52 weeks of coaching to claim your power, increase your impact & expand your influence is available on our website. In just 2 pages per week, you can pause to reflect on your goals, consider how you want to show up and you have an executive coach on each page.