Adaptability Makes The Leader

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Being able to adapt to change within a moment’s notice is crucial to surviving and leading a startup – especially a tech-based one. Hear Kate Bilenki speak at City Meetup in Vancouver

One of our core values and strengths at PlentyOfFish has always been adaptability; being quick to anticipate, recognize and respond to internal and external pressures and opportunities. Adaptability has been integral in POF’s success from day one, and it just so happens that it’s this same quality that has played a significant role in helping me become an effective leader in an industry where change is the only constant. Change is inevitable, but struggle is optional. In any startup, very few things will go according to plan, which is why so many fail; but try being a startup in the tech space where your business model can be turned upside down overnight by a tech genius eating pizza pops in his/her basement. To thrive in this space, change and adapting to change should be the first things you think about every morning after your put on your pants / skirt. Here are three things I keep in mind when it comes to change.

 Embrace Change

When you adopt this sentiment and apply it to yourself and your business, decisions will come faster and easier. It’s been deeply ingrained in us to assume that the masses are opposed to change, and that may be so, because change can be uncomfortable. But out of that temporary discomfort comes real growth. At PlentyOfFish this can translate into adapting our product on the fly to react to market direction, to ensuring we mix up the employee seating chart every few months. Being the first employee at PlentyOfFish meant I wore many hats for many years. And as COO, I continue to do so. New initiatives arise constantly – from an evaluation of a potential acquisition or investment, to hiring best talent, accommodating our ever-growing demands for more space, to ensuring we remain on top of the market. In a single day, you can act as a lawyer, an HR director, a PR manager, and an accountant – all before lunch. And since we are such a lean company, it’s important that we continue to hire people who are flexible in their roles, and are willing to take on challenges that they may not be used to. Is it outside your comfort zone? Good. The people who rise to the occasion (even if they temporarily fail) make strong leaders.

Watch and Learn

In business and leadership it’s tempting to fall back on going “by the book” in hopes of achieving a desired outcome. However, at a startup, “the book” doesn’t always apply (or even exist), and you need to improvise. As the leader of teams around the company ranging from customer service to technical engineering, I have to accept that what works for one, may not work for the other. In an environment of highly intelligent and specialized individuals, there is no room for one-size-fits-all management methods, and I am constantly reevaluating my approach based on what I am seeing and what I am learning. Every personality is different, and should receive a different approach for the ideal outcome – gone are the days when employees were required to “please the boss”, or appease her in hopes she’ll think favorably of you; it’s now up to the leader to understand thoroughly and bring out the best in his/her people. Implement what is best for your team based on dynamics and observations instead of assumptions. Adapt with them.

Be Scared

Whether you’re filling a new role or heading into uncharted territory in a leadership position, it can be nerve-wracking – and that can be a good thing! Because as leaders, we’re not making decisions which affect just ourselves; we are responsible for people’s careers, success or failure of the business, and impact customers’ lives. Mistakes are not the end of the world if you learn from them, and chances are you’ll uncover a new skills in the process, but we must always take something away from the experience for next time. Having a healthy dose of nerves and uncertainty often leads to researching, trying something new and breaking out of your comfort zone…and before you know it, you’re adapting.

Want to hear more from Kate Belinki? Register for City Meetup Vancouver, taking place May 1st!

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Kate Bilenki is the COO of Plentyoffish Media, a technology leader in online dating. Drawn to its rapid evolution, widespread reach and abundance of keen minds, Kate joined the tech sector in 2002, and has remained ever since. She went on to become the first employee at PlentyOfFish in 2008. As COO, Kate has grown PlentyOfFish to an organization that employs 75 of the local tech industry's brightest talents. She also has helped devise and implement strategies which have contributed to growing the site's user base to over 80 million members. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KateBilenki