Trevor Stockwell Leadership Development Services

Flexible Leadership: How Flexible Are You?

06 May 2022

When it comes to your approach to self-leadership, and leading others, it is a great question to think about, 'So how flexible are you really?' 


Great leaders develop the posture of being flexible, agile, when they need to be.


Flexibility is required for so much more than yoga poses or gymnastics, (although it certainly applies to these also), but how agile are you in your thinking, in your approach, in your leadership, in how you make decisions. 


How flexible are you in listening to the opinions of others? Either taking them on board, or if not, at least evaluating them before dismissing them? 


The most successful and productive teams have a good spread of diversity and experiences because… [and here could be a shocker for the day, but it's a truth we need to be reminded of regularly]… we don't all see things the same way!


There's value in having a certain level of flexibility rather than taking the stance of, 'it's this way, this is how it's going to get done' , without even exploring options. Your opinion and approach may well be correct in a lot of the different ways and endeavours that you are involved in, but maybe not. It is worth considering other people's views and perspectives first. If we don't, we limit ourselves to just the ideas and the thoughts that we generate. And maybe if you've got an unbalanced level of self-confidence, you might think, 'well, my ideas are the best ones anyway’


Hmm, I'll leave you to ponder and explore that further in your own time…


Flexible leadership: Different is not necessarily wrong


Now, I am not advocating that you take the stance of being wishy washy, that you're always changing things based on the opinions of others, or that you procrastinate making decisions thinking, 'Actually maybe there's a better way'. That would be an unhealthy posture of flexible leadership. No, there are different stages in anything that you do when you have to make a decision and follow through on that, particularly when you are leading a team because, and it is as true in your own life, once you decide something, it brings a stability and a direction for energy and resources.


flexible leadership do you know where you are going


If you don't know where you're heading, you're not going to know when you get there. If you've got a clear path ahead, it helps to remove doubt and anxiety caused by uncertainty and people in your team know where they are at and know what they are supposed to be doing. 


Successful flexible leadership discerns when to be flexible, to change, to make different decisions, or at least re-evaluate, 'Is this still the best decision for where we are now?'  Because circumstances will change, the marketplace, the world will change. The other side of this is that you don't want to be so rigid, so set in your ways that it has got to happen a certain way, when there is benefit in being open to the views of others.

We can learn a lot from nature if we spend a few moments looking at creation and observing how it operates. Think about the branches of a tree, and how the supple branches react in a breeze, they adapt don't they? When there's no wind, there is a certain direction that they're growing in because of their DNA, (but I'm not a dendrologist). Then when winds come, they are flexible enough to move in the direction of the wind, they 'ride out the storm'.


Flexible leadership learning from trees


When the wind ceases, usually the branches move back in the direction they would naturally grow. But, if they are constantly subjected to strong winds, these will have more of an influence on the direction that the branches actually grow in, they change and grow in the direction of the wind. If they do not adapt, if they have become too rigid and the winds are strong enough, then branches will break. There is a skill in learning when you need to adapt, to get the right balance of flexibility.

Self-leadership: there is benefit in reassessing your level of flexible leadership regularly, 'How flexible am I in my approach to...?'  [Whatever it is that you're doing]. 


'Have I just carried on doing it the same way I've always done it, getting the same results?' (if those results are amazing, great! there's no need to change). 


But it's worth pausing every now and again and asking: 

  • Is there a better way of doing it?

  • Can I get ideas from people around me?

  • How can I develop flexible leadership...explore research, look at case studies of best practice?

  • If I had to take a different approach, what would that be?

  • Would my team describe me as having a flexible leadership style?


Stay agile and open to flexibility. Flexible ways of working, flexible ways of thinking.


Flexible leadership does not mean compromising your values


I am a great advocate that when you know what your values are, and you have definite convictions about something that you stand your ground against opposing thoughts or opinions or actions that would sway you from the direction that you really believe that you need to go in. Let other people head in the direction that they need to go. It should not necessarily influence the way that you need to go. So stand your ground when you need to, because that's important. But the flip side of that is realising that flexible leadership requires being open to the right opinions from the right people around you, opinions that may well disagree with your approach.


Leading others: have you surrounded yourself and built within your team enough diversity, agility and psychological safety that people will challenge or suggest ideas contrary to the way they know that you said you want to go, or how things have always been done?


Flexible leadership are you open to input from others


Are you open to at least evaluate and consider their suggestions? You really need to encourage, nurture and foster creativity where other people regularly bring input. It does not mean you have to follow through on the decisions and the suggestions that they make all of the time.


There is a skill in communicating well in those times when you are not going to follow through on their ideas and suggestions in a way that does not stifle input from them in the future. You want to acknowledge and show appreciation for their input, do not ignore it and just move on. Let them know that you have evaluated their ideas, given it some thought, and that you've weighed it up against other options, but in this instance, you don't think it is the right way forward. If it is appropriate, give them a couple of reasons why, in this instance, you believe it is not the best approach to take.


This continues to build and encourage an environment and culture of creativity. In the next challenge that you have or in the next discussion, this same person may be the genius that comes up with an idea that unlocks a new avenue, a new way of growth. So ensure that you do not stifle the opinions of others.


It is a balance, situations can change from moment to moment, day to day, sometimes with different activities, and in the different teams that you operate and lead. Adopting an agile approach and staying flexible is an important characteristic amongst great leaders. Developing the right balance of being flexible will help you to navigate those changes well and optimise new opportunities change can bring. Remember, different is not necessarily wrong.


I believe in YOU, and I believe in YOUR potential!


If you need more flexibility in your work life balance, this webinar can help...


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