How to be a more flexible – and successful – leader (part one)

There are almost as many different theories about what constitutes good corporate leadership as there are members of the C-suite themselves. Many different elements have contributed to this diversity of opinion, from the prevailing wisdom of the time (for instance, the “Rule with an iron fist” mentality of yester-decade) to various experts’ eagerness to share what has worked for them.

As we alluded above, the popularity of the traditional method of leadership – which can be summarized as the “Maintain a stiff upper lip while you crack the whip” approach – is waning. Now, more prized leadership characteristics include an ability to roll with the punches and a willingness to present a more human side of oneself, even (or perhaps especially) when the chips are down.

In an article for Inc., the well-named business and leadership expert Peter Economy argued that flexible leadership, which goes hand in hand with open-mindedness and the capacity to sidestep rigidity, is key to executive success.

Could flexibility be the key to leadership success?

“An inflexible mind jumps to conclusions before gathering all of the facts,” Economy asserted. “Many of us have made the mistake of forming an opinion about someone before he or she finished speaking, only to find out later that our opinion was way off. Flexibility allows us to set our personal beliefs and prejudices aside and truly observe and listen to varying points of view – opening our eyes to new ways of viewing the world around us. Those with flexibility tend to be the happiest and most successful in life and at work.”

So, how can you as a leader go about becoming more flexible – and, in turn, hopefully more successful? Economy offered a few pointers, and we came up with several of our own as well.

1. Keep it real

Sometimes, leaders get so caught up in an idealized view of their organization in the future that they forget to live “in the now” and pay the appropriate level of attention to the present. The bridge to tomorrow lies across the river of today, and executives who fail to realize this may find they never make it across that bridge.

2. Have a Plan B… and C… and D

There are all sorts of reasons why companies can’t proceed according to an original plan. Maybe the economic climate shifted since the preliminary framework was put in place or a key player in the project pulled out. Whatever obstacle arises, a flexible leader won’t be fazed. Rather, this type of executive will more than likely pull Plan B out of his or her back pocket and proceed to move the company forward.

3. Don’t rush, nor procrastinate

Especially when a crisis is afoot, people have the tendency to make snap judgments in order to respond to the issue as quickly as possible, but flexible leaders avoid this trap. Rather, explained Economy, “They understand that there are many solutions to any given situation and they take the time to gather information before choosing their best option.” At the same time, however, the best leaders also recognize that while rushing to take action may be harmful to a company, so too can hemming and hawing for longer than necessary. Striking a balance is critical.

“Even the best leaders could stand to be better.”

4. Be open to criticism

Even the best leaders could stand to be better. This isn’t a criticism of the way they currently conduct business, but an acknowledgment of the fact that nobody’s perfect and running a company often takes a village. Because of this, senior managers shouldn’t get defensive when they receive constructive criticism, be it from their colleagues in the C-suite or an employee on the ground floor of an organization. Soliciting feedback from across the workforce can often result in leaders gaining insights they would never otherwise have been able to access, but if executives aren’t able to put their pride aside and take the suggestions of their subordinates seriously, they could miss out on all the benefits associated with tapping into this well of knowledge.

5. Multi-task judiciously

In this day and age, it seems as if people are working longer and harder than ever. The technologies that help make our jobs easier (cloud computing, mobile devices, Wi-Fi seemingly everywhere – even on planes) are also blurring the lines between work and personal time. To optimize their potential for success, leaders must be flexible in that they’re prepared to slam on the brakes at a moment’s notice in terms of their work on one project and go full steam ahead on another.

Check back for part two of our guide on how to be a more flexible – and successful – leader.

About Caldwell

Caldwell is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for 50 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America, Europe and Asia Pacific, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.

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