Have You Thought About Your Leadership Flexibility?

Like many before me, I spend time pondering about leadership. More specifically, I think about how flexible my leadership is and how I can improve to being a better flexible leader.

The concept of flexible leadership began to draw my attention when I started coaching and mentoring young leaders. I notice one of the struggles that young leaders often experience is the ability to bring team members together effectively.

Differences in personalities, working styles and ways of thinking all contribute to the challenge of building an effective team. A leader who understands flexibility and is willing to be flexible will go a long way in bringing the best out of their team and achieving success.

So Just How Flexible Are You As A Leader?

Consider this scenario: Your team and you are standing on the shore across a beautiful but uninhabited island. You have managed to secure a small raft for crossing the water to get to the island.  

While the island is beautiful, not everyone on your team is accustomed to adventures. Immediately, you notice various discussions are taking place. Some people wonder if visiting the island is a good idea. Others want to know who should be crossing the water first.

I’m not going alone. I will go only if you the team leader coming with me,” say one team member.

In the meanwhile, a couple of team members who seem to be very keen on exploring the island and are bursting with excitement. They are only waiting for the green light from you before charging into the water. 

Then there are a handful of members who are indecisive. They are full of doubts and are very anxious. So much so that not only they want you to lead the crossing, they also expect you to bring back proof that the island is safe. 

I will only do it if you go to the island first and come back and get me,” they say.

So what would you do?

  1. Are you a leader who doesn’t mind to go where no one has ever gone before? With your adventurous spirit, you don’t mind taking the lead and do the “if I can do it, so can you” scenario.
  2. Are you a leader who empowers others to take action on their own? Perhaps you prefer to let those enthusiasts charge ahead and explore the island first while you staying back working with others?
  3. Are you a leader who would like to investigate and explore options? So perhaps you want to organise a scouting party to gather information from the island first before sending your entire team over?

What Is Your Leadership Flexibility?

Before you overwork your brain and start analysing the pros and cons of each of the above options, let me just say that all three leadership styles described are important and have merits. Each one of them offers a certain degree of leadership flexibility.

So instead of trying to pick a particular leadership style, we should approach this scenario from a different perspective. Instead, we should consider the following:

  1. What is our default leadership flexibility?
  2. What can we do to exercise our flexibility muscle to ensure we have the capacity to accommodate the people we are leading.

Flexing Your Flexibility Muscle

If you are the type who yells, “yes, follow me and let’s get to the island”, then perhaps you are a leader who thrives in a risky and dynamic environment. While it’s good to enjoy a challenge or two, don’t forget most people including your team are likely to feel uncomfortable when facing uncertainties and change.

A leader with inherent risk-taking preference (think Sir Richard Branson) often needs to have strategies in place to prevent team burnout. So rather than fully exercising your leadership flexibility, slowing down and taking meaningful risks is critical in this instance.

On the other hand, you may be someone who prefers to weigh up the pros and cons in details and requires a thorough analysis from multiple sources before making a decision. Then you may be the “let’s send a scouting party over to the island” type of a leader. A leader with this preference tends to have a risk-averse tendency with less flexibility in their leadership.

While some may view risk-adverse as a negative leadership quality, it is in fact a fundamental quality to be a good leader. The trick is to get a good balance and flex your leadership flexibility muscle a little in order to minimise the chance of missing out exciting opportunities.

A leader who gravitates towards risk-averse thinking should actively seek out team members who are more spontaneous and entrepreneurial in their thinking.

Moral of the story

Building a high-performing team demands strong leadership with a good degree of flexibility. A good leader remembers to regularly exercise their flexibility muscle and build on their capacity to work with a wide range of people effectively.

What do you think you could do to exercise your flexibility muscle? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.