Flexible Leadership

By Sean Stevenson – Latest Revision December 9th, 2020

Today’s business environment is in a constant state of flux. 

Adapting to an ever-changing business landscape is critical to modern leadership. 

Moreover, there is a lack of leadership to combat the rising fundamental issues that are costing companies billions in annual revenue.  

Cultural shifts, changing regulations, rapidly evolving technology, political alterations, and ever-increasing customer demands are all becoming the norm within our globalized economy. 

This is the new everyday life of our business world.

Despite all of this, what can seem like chaos to most, is really an unprecedented opportunity. 

To an enlightened and flexible leader, the future is up for grabs. 

In this guide, I will define and explore the nature of flexible leadership.  Moreover, I will teach you how you can use flexible leadership to better yourself and your organization.

Defining Flexible Leadership

How do we define a flexible leader? 

Leadership by its very nature can be difficult to fully understand or contemplate.  For our purposes, we can understand that flexible leadership represents the ability to change and adapt as necessary in a business environment.  

Embracing change and enacting effective policy are paramount to a flexible leader.  Studies have shown that changes in the way we do business are only going to increase in regularity and intensity in the coming years. 

Evolved business is no longer a “fad” that can be ignored.  It is the new reality.

In this new business age, there will always be points of transition or transformation.  To remain efficient, companies now require flexible leadership at all levels of their organizational structure.  Not only to react favorably to new trends as they emerge, but also to ideally anticipate these changes before they occur.

These situations can challenge organizations greatly; at times creating a “sink or swim” situation in which a company must find an immediate solution or stagnate into irrelevance. 

Where many might become discouraged due to the criticism, failures, or negativity within a workplace, the flexible leader is continuously marching towards perfection.  Despite everything that might stand in the way, their mindset is focused only on the optimal outcome. 

In such an environment, a flexible leader requires deft vision and personal prowess.  Navigating the changes that become inevitable is never an easy task.  To this end, creating new innovative ways of conducting business, altering productivity frameworks, and uniting others in shared purpose, are all key staples of flexible leadership. 

Flexible Leadership

Persisting in building a strong team, pursuing success at every turn, and cultivating a culture of positive reinforcement, are all integral to a flexible leader’s goals.

Building the Flexible Team

To unlock and embrace change, a flexible leader is willing to work directly alongside subordinates.  This humble approach represents extraordinary leadership. 

By treating others with deference and respect wherever possible, they are setting the groundwork for workplace relationships to thrive.  Through building such positive connections, they can then start the earnest work of building a formidable team. 

Using each stakeholder’s strengths in tandem will produce remarkable results.  Focusing individuals or entire teams on areas in which they excel is the optimal business plan. 

It is important to note that focus is itself a limited resource.  No matter how skilled a worker may be, their energy and focus are finite. 

A team or a person can only accomplish so much within a given workday.  Countless studies have shown that multitasking effectively for longer periods of time is impossible.  Our brains simply cannot multitask that effectively. 

Hence, focus efforts first in areas that will produce the greatest impact.  Use the limits of your team’s energy to full effect and focus to drive key priorities to their fulfillment.  Then, when the task is complete, move on to the next one using the same method. 

In this fashion, tasks can be accomplished both quickly and effectively.  Moreover, you will avoid burnout.

Ideally, any professional team is based on positive reinforcement.  Studies have shown that happy and positive people thrive in the workplace. 


Flexible Leadership

“Intelligence is the handmaiden of flexibility and change.”

-Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep

A Company-First Mentality

For the sake of pragmatism, the needs of the organization must always come first.  Any real leader understands this.  After all, if the organization were to fail, so too (unfortunately!) would its people.

By working “for” a company’s interest, rather than for individual concerns, we can engross ourselves in the affairs of the day-to-day far more effectively.  Think of this in terms of playing for a team.  As an individual, you rise or fall with the team’s ability to succeed.

Driving a passionate discourse for the future of an organization (and its people in turn) should be of heightened significance in any workplace.

By promoting conscious awareness of key factors that can help or hinder your organization, you are setting a powerful precedent.  The greatest opportunities for success come from internal efforts.  

Offering colleagues timely information can mean the difference between a successful venture and a failed one. 

Key variables must always present the “best way forward for the company,” as opposed to the individual.  It’s the sacrifice we all must make to ensure our very livelihoods.

This is not to say that individuality itself is an affront to flexible leadership (on the contrary!).  But it is important to acknowledge that the needs of the organization must always be at the forefront of both action and discourse.

People will be more likely to feel a sense of urgency and pride in their work by understanding the impact that they have within an organizational structure.  Advancing that sense of purpose and creating a culture of positive reinforcement has been shown in many studies to be a highly effective managerial approach.

To create such a powerful mentality, focus on both leading and managing in careful unison.  Determine the ideal use of resources given your own internal processes, and develop a plan to improve already existing frameworks. 

Show others a better path through your own example.  While fostering systemic productivity, you will become a pillar of your organization.  This is how careers are ultimately built and how organization’s may come to thrive.

Empowering a Flexible Workforce

An effective flexible leader knows not only how to manage people, but how to empower them.  With the rise of the competitive workplace in a globalized economy, we are now -more than ever- tasked with rigorous duties.  Often, these duties prove complex and far more demanding than we at first anticipate.  To counter this, a flexible leader realizes that his or her people are the number one resource of any organization.  They must be equipped with the knowledge and authority to deal with issues on the fly. 

What many organizations lack, is a coherent plan to fully train their own employees.  Obviously, this is due to lacking resources or foreknowledge. 

Any time employees are left with gaps in their knowledge, the possibility of a misstep arises.  What may seem like a simple mistake can cause a ripple effect, alienating customers due to backlogs, failed deliveries, or product deterioration. 

It can create even larger gaps in a workflow structure; generating an atmosphere where employees continue to make the same mistakes, all due to lacking (or absent) communicatory efforts.

Furthermore, it is entirely necessary to develop clear definitions of the various roles of stakeholders within each specific work structure.  Everyone must fully understand their exact place and function in the process.  Each worker must also know where they can get help when they need it; as there are often unusual situations that can arise suddenly without any warning. 

Continuous improvement and training are a necessity for the flexible leader.  Understanding how to prevent these issues takes a continuous application of meticulous leadership.  However, you do not want to make people feel as if they are clueless when you assist them.  Nor do you want to appear overbearing by offering them advice in person.  The goal is never to embarrass or provoke a response.  Rather, it is to ensure that quality and productivity are maintained (or improved upon!). 

Through such patient, continuous, and meticulous training, you can prevent issues from occurring altogether.  Remain malleable with your own schedule wherever possible.  Learn to stretch every moment for the benefit of your team, and you will reap huge rewards.

By empowering their employees, flexible leaders are building a solid foundation for growth within their organization.

“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.”


Flexible Problem-Solving

Further, when dealing with unique challenges a flexible leader is always consulting front-line stakeholders.  The employee who is tasked with workflow duties that are under managerial review, should be the first person consulted.  That individual will be understand how to go about improving them.  After all, who would know better about a given process, than the person who deals with it every single day?  Always try to think of your own people as your greatest resource!

When setbacks happen, an exceptionally flexible leader maintains an optimistic outlook.  From basic experience, anyone can easily deduce that failures will inevitably happen.  How those failures are dealt with is what separates exceptionalism from mediocrity.

Every failure is a learning opportunity.  The ideal flexible leader recognizes this with gusto. 

By seizing the opportunity of failure, an exceptional flexible leader will hash out a better way forward for the future.  Whether it be a more optimized process, a change in technology, or a shift in cultural structure, there is always a positive solution to be found.

Casting blame is a sign of gross negligence and incompetence.  The onus is always on the leader to provide the systemic advantage to their people and organization. 

The most successful leaders in history have been humble, hardworking, and the first to take the onus of blame onto their own shoulders.  By being earnest and open in your approach, you will develop fluid responses to problems. 

This is the essence of flexible leadership.  It become a self-fulfilling prophecy of productive thought and action.

Proactive Flexible Leadership

Flexible leadership demonstrates compelling modesty when dealing with others, while at the same time acting as a catalyst for heightened productivity. 

Their style is proactive, rather than reactive. 

A flexible leader would much rather think ahead and handle a situation quickly before it deteriorates further.  In this way, the environment is being controlled, and problems are averted before they become too severe.

Aspiring to excel requires proactivity.  A flexible leader’s relation to the larger organization is not just about personal aspirations or ambition; it must be about building a legacy. 

It is not longer enough to simply “clock in” to work only to “clock out” hours later.  The challenges we face today are unprecedented.  A truly flexible leader will understand that there are far greater things “outside” of themselves. 

Any enlightened leader knows that their own perspective is limited.  For a better tomorrow, one can only work hard, treat others well, and shape the dynamic in a positive way. 

A great example of this is the health official working long hours to keep people safe during difficult times.  That same health official knows the challenges that lay ahead will be difficult -perhaps for years to come- yet strives towards the positive all the same.  To counteract the negative, use every positive resource you can muster.  You will often be surprised at the flexibility you can develop in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. 

By taking the initiative wherever possible, a flexible leader is setting a powerful example to other members of their organization.  This is also critical for learning and development.  Without full commitment, there can be no real long-term growth. 

It is a daily struggle combatting the elements that demand we surrender our dreams.  It requires the most sterling forms of personal resilience to not give in or take the “easy way” out. 

Practice proactive habits by yourself and with others consistently.  With positive reinforcement, you’ll come to build a thriving team!

“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you'll never get it done.”

-Bruce Lee

Continually Pushing the Envelope

Any flexible leadership is constantly challenging themselves.  They fear the “plateau” of their abilities and understand that every challenge they face is critical to their growth.  Understanding the importance of this relationship between growth and stagnation is imperative to developing a learning process.  Setbacks will prove inevitable, and the possibility of failure will be a constant companion along the way. 

Far more often than not, these personal struggles do not persist in isolation.  A flexible leader knows that everyone who achieved success in their life received copious support and coaching along the way. 

Learning to change as the situation demands is a learned ability.  Nobody on earth is simply “born” with this capacity.   It takes years of personal investment and determination to achieve effective proactivity on a personal level. 

Building personal resilience will be key to developing effective flexibility as a leader.  When all else seems to be failing, your people will look to you to make things right.  A leader who can create solutions in desperate times is the most highly sought-after commodity in today’s world.  Practice pliancy in the face of insurmountable odds, and you will benefit greatly, no matter the outcome.   

However, for anyone to truly master flexible leadership, they must constantly make use of their own personal network and resources also.  It is not simply enough to find yourself in a leadership role.  You must also spend as much time as possible practicing what you preach and perfecting your skills wherever possible.

Obtaining feedback is integral to measuring growth and rates of success. 

What a flexible leader still needs to work on is never entirely obvious in isolation. To improve at it, you will need to actively participate in as many learning experiences as possible.  Moreover, you will often have to seek coaching and obtain feedback wherever you can find it. 

Many organizations are small in size.  If you must get creative to find your feedback or mentor, then do not hesitate to do so!

From your contributions in teambuilding, altering workflows, or otherwise, you can never fully understand your own impact without open, honest feedback.

No person can be entirely objective on their own, so recognize this and readily act on it.  This should become a behavioral loop; a habit that you fully embrace.     

If you wish to thrive and grow as a flexible leader in today’s business world, it is essential to maintain your commitment to personal growth and learning.  While it can be difficult to swallow your pride to seek feedback, or to ask for help, you must recognize it as a necessity.  There is no other option in the hyper-competitive landscape that exists today.  You are either steadily growing or stagnating.  There is no longer any “in between.”

Flexible Leadership – A Conclusion

To excel as a flexible leader, embrace all the resources you have available to you.  Being open at any given moment to new experiences and learning opportunities will grant you an edge over your competition.  It is also a strong recommendation that you create a journal to record all of your own personal leadership experiences in.  This will help you map your own development and identify key areas for improvement over time.

If you ever need further assistance, we are here to assist you.  Leadershipdean.com has many resources available and is always developing new ones as well.  We can help you navigate the complexities of fierce competition and modern globalization.  

Everything is possible when you have the will to pursue it.  You can develop yourself for a better tomorrow. 

Always remember that every worthwhile journey takes time!

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