All good leaders must be flexible and adaptable. Leaders who think they know everything better than anyone else in their organization are likely to fail. The best leaders learn from others, and adapt their plans to changing circumstances. They have the ability to pivot when necessary, but also lead by sticking with core values. Here are three ways that successful leaders succeed by being flexible and adaptable:
- Overcoming challenges by learning: Every team encounters obstacles whenever they set out to accomplish a goal. Leaders must help their people and their organization succeed by overcoming these challenges. The best way for any leader to overcome challenges is to step back and see what is working and what is not working. This is a skill called learning agility, and it is a critical skill for all leaders since they can not be expected to know how to do everything. They must “learn how to succeed” as a team. The best leaders institutionalize learning within their organization by coaching their team to periodically assess how they are doing, especially after a major event. By formally gathering their team and discussing what works and what doesn’t work, the leader can set the stage for adapting their approach and making improvements for future success. Large corporations like General Electric have done this by institutionalizing programs like the GE “Workout” workshops, and the US Army has done it with their “after-action-reviews.” Regardless of what it is called, the discipline of institutionalized learning is a key to leadership success, and successful leaders adapt what they have learned to make constant course corrections towards achieving their goals.
- Using appropriate leadership styles: Daniel Goleman, an expert on Emotional Intelligence and leadership, outlines six major leadership styles. After extensive research, he concludes that there is no one best leadership style. Leaders must be flexible and adaptable in using a style that fits the situation and their organization. In some instances a democratic style works best when time is not urgent and information can be shared; however in other situations like a crisis, a command style might be more appropriate to make decisions quickly and move out of the danger zone. Thus, the best leaders will be flexible and move from one style to another whichever is most appropriate for their situation and their team.
- Adapting plans to changed circumstances: Planning is an essential part of any successful team endeavor; however no plans are perfect and the leader must be flexible to adapt the plan to changed circumstances. Nothing remains constant, and today change is more rapid and frequent than at almost any time in the past. The best leaders plan for the future and for contingencies; however, they also know that plans must be adapted when the planning assumptions are no longer valid. Although the plans may change, the leader will still try to operate in concert with their core values. Thus, they will make appropriate adjustments and continue to move ahead without compromising their basic beliefs and values.
These are just three ways that demonstrate why leaders must be flexible and adaptable. Effective leaders are always in tune to their operating environment. Sometimes this is referred to as situational awareness. They evaluate the information that is available to them and make adjustments in their approach, style, and plans to achieve success, but still remain true to their values. Although leaders need to demonstrate perseverance to achieve their goals, they must also be flexible and adaptable in their approach to accomplish their mission. Knowing when to stand firm and when to be flexible is the art of leadership.