Organizational leader speaking with team.

The Importance of Flexible Leadership

Each of us comes with some learned or comfortable modes of operating, which shapes our leadership style.  

Some of us prefer to think out loud, while others prefer not to speak until they have developed a fully-formed idea. We may even want to confirm it with some research before uttering it aloud.   

Some of us get right down to “brass tacks” and don’t like a long-winded conversation without a clear point, while others don’t feel comfortable until they’ve had time to socialize and connect.

You may be very action-oriented and want to connect everything to some immediate activity to be taken, or you may prefer to have multiple interesting discussions over time to develop ideas and thinking before committing to taking a specific action.

None of these styles are “right” or “wrong” or more or less effective than the others.  

What is most important is that you know which style is yours, and how to recognize the styles of others. You likely work with a wide spectrum of people.  As a flexible leader, you learn to meet each person closer to their preferred style—in order to be most effective in reaching your goals.

What is a Flexible Leader?

The most effective leaders can connect with anyone, by being flexible in their own style to make the other person comfortable and able to contribute their best to the conversation or interaction. Well aware of the turbulence that is part of modern business, flexible leaders embrace change, are open to new ideas, and are able to lead and manage—both of which are necessary for being a successful leader

The advantages of flexible leadership are that we earn the trust and respect of other people, gain a wealth of insights and ideas that can bring us closer to our goals, and increase the ability to adapt in high-stress situations, which can ultimately generate sustainable growth and profits. 

How High Stress Can Affect Your Ability to Be Flexible and Adaptive

In a low stress environment, you may find it easy to adjust your expectations and your leadership style to accommodate others and put them at ease.  

However, when we are stressed, we all retreat to our behavioral corner and fall back on the style that makes us most comfortable, and fail to adapt to other people.  This generates unnecessary friction in the relationship and makes it harder. 

When we need to be cultivating positive interactions with someone, big style differences can make almost any interaction less positive for both parties.

The Magic Ratio for Having a Neutral Relationship with Anyone

The magic ratio to have at least a neutral relationship with anyone is 3:1.  You need three positive interactions for every negative interaction.  If you give praise easily, listen attentively, respect others’ opinions and values, they are more likely to go the extra mile for you, forgive your mistakes, and accept criticism from you more readily.

How do you demonstrate flexible leadership? Start here:

  1. Understand your own natural style. Use Everything DiSC, MBTI or another communication style survey to see where you fall. Pay particular attention to how you behave when under high stress; this is often the marker of your most natural or comfortable style.
  2. Notice the styles of others. Do they like to start with small talk, or are they all about getting to the point quickly and moving on?  What do they do under stress?  What is the pace of their work – are they quick to speak up, or do they wait and think about their input for a while before speaking? You can even have your teams take an assessment and talk about how to use that to improve working relationships and communication.
  3. Acknowledge style differences and work to meet halfway.  When you are working with people with a very different style, let them know that your preferences are different, that you will work to meet them closer to their comfort zone, and how you would like them to also shift to meet you part-way. Upfront communication reduces our negative judgment of other styles and makes it a common problem we can work on together.

Ultimately, becoming a more flexible leader makes you a more powerful leader. The greatest leaders are those who can modify their behavior to create results, rather than staying stuck in their own behavioral box.

Where could a little more flexibility make the most difference for you right away?

Remember, instead of the Golden Rule, stop treating others the way you want to be treated, and treat them the way they want to be treated.

Ready to be a more flexible and adaptive leader? Our Fearless Leaders MasterClass® Program helps you increase self-awareness, become more flexible,  and build better communication skills with your team.