Teaching Leadership LO6599 -flexibility

Thu, 11 Apr 1996 11:22:24 +0100

Replying to LO6537 --

Following on from LO6524 & LO6537:

I think that one of the skills to teach a leader is flexibility.

One of the main challenges for a leader is to avoid pat answers to
everyday questions. There is nothing so dull, for you and your team, as
you pulling out the same answer to every situation. It is also wrong. Each
situation, and each person, is unique and no text-book answer will be able
to embrace that uniqueness - except one: you are the leader, you have to
judge each situation with a fresh eye, and you have to create the
response. Your common sense and experience are your best guide in
analysing the problem and in evolving your response.

Even if the established response seems suitable, you might still try
something different. This is simple Darwinism. By trying variations upon
standard models, you evolve new and potentially fitter models. If they do
not work, you do not repeat them (although they might be tried in other
circumstances); if they work better, then you have adapted and evolved.

This deliberate flexibility is not just an academic exercise to find the
best answer. The point is that the situation and the environment are
continually changing; and the rate of change is generally increasing with
advancing technology. If you do not continually adapt (through
experimentation) to accommodate these changes, then the solution which
used to work (and which you still habitually apply) will no longer be
appropriate. You will become the dodo. A lack of flexibility will cause
stagnation and inertia. Not only do you not adapt, but the whole
excitement of your work and your team diminish as fresh ideas are lacking
or lost.

Without detracting from the main work, you can stimulate your team with
changes of focus. This includes drives for specific quality improvements,
mission statements, team building activities, delegated authority, and so
on. You have to decide how often to "raise excitement" about new issues.
On the one hand, too many focuses may distract or prevent the attainment
of any one; on the other hand, changes in focus keep them fresh and
maintain the excitement.

By practising this philosophy yourself, you also stimulate fresh ideas
from your team because they see that it is a normal part of the team
practice to adopt and experiment with innovation. Thus not only are you
relieved of the task of generating the new ideas, but also your team
acquire ownership in the whole creative process. By providing changes of
focus you build and motivate your team. For if you show in these changes
that you are actively working to help them work, then they will feel that
their efforts are recognized. If you also include their ideas in the
changes, then they will feel themselves to be a valued part of the team.

Gerard M Blair, Senior Lecturer, The Department of Electrical Engineering,
The University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Management articles home page: http://www.ee.ed.ac.uk/~gerard/Management



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