The Leadership Principle of Flexibility

Have sufficient flexibility of behaviour so that you can adapt what you do until you get the right outcome

I found this old quote in my notebook yesterday:

“When a tree is growing, it is tender and pliant. But when it is dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and strength are death’s companions.

Andrei Tarkovsky

I’d kept the quote because it reminded me of one of my key leadership principles:

Have sufficient flexibility of behaviour so that you can adapt what you do until you get the right outcome

I can’t emphasise enough how important this principle of flexibility is and yet it’s often something that people struggle with at work.

Sometimes they’re concerned that changing the way they do things will be seen as a sign of weakness. Sometimes they’re worried that actually they only know one way of doing things, and without that they’d feel helpless. Sometimes they’re drawing too much on one of their other strengths (such as persistence and doggedness). And sometimes there’s an important point of principle and people are concerned that trying a different way might compromise that.

And yet – if the way you’re currently doing it is NOT getting the right results, you have to ask, when is it time to try something else?

Try these simple steps first if you’d like to have a go at being more flexible in your leadership:

  1. How clear are you about what you’re trying to achieve?
  2. How do you know (what’s the evidence you can see, hear and touch) how well or not you’re doing?
  3. How many strategies (or routes to your objective) have you already tried? (hint, if it’s not more than one, then you may need to be a bit more flexible!)

One silly exercise I often set for people who want to practise being flexible, is to ask them to drive or travel home from work by a different route each day for a week. Have a go if you want, and see how resourceful it makes you feel!

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