It takes many different qualities to make a great leader. Vision. Honesty. Integrity. Passion. Commitment. Communication skills. The ability to build relationships. And in today’s world of rapid-fire change, I also put flexibility at the top of the leadership attribute list.
The dictionary defines flexibility as “a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements.” And nothing characterizes today’s business environment more than the need to constantly adapt to change. If you can’t readily adapt to new and often dramatically different circumstances, your organization will quickly get left behind.
Today’s leaders are confronted with three broad categories of change:
- Globalization. As our world grows smaller and smaller, the ability to think globally becomes paramount. Managers and leaders must become more innovative and proactive, anticipating problems and opportunities as well as entirely new markets and products that can spring up from anywhere in the world.
- Leadership styles. Today’s employees want to be led. They want to be motivated, guided and inspired, not directed and micro-managed. Most of all, they want to participate and engage in every aspect of their job. This requires discarding the old managerial approach of administrating and directing and adopting the new idea of guiding and inspiring.
- Increasingly diverse workforce. For the first time ever, the U.S. has four generations in the workplace, each with different attitudes, values, wants, needs, desires and expectations of work. The workplace is also growing more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, gender and political and religious beliefs. Long gone are the days of “one size fits all” workplace policies. More than ever, managers and leaders need a variety of options with which to manage their workforce.
The bad news is that change is only going to get faster. Work will grow increasingly complex. And as more and more generation Y (currently ages 20 to 27) enter the workplace; it will become even more diverse. In the face of such relentless change, leadership agility becomes more critical than ever.
At the organizational level, leadership agility manifests itself in things like workplace flexibility programs. When you provide employees with options such as flexible hours, telecommuting and compressed workweeks, it gives them some control over their work environment while creating the sense of engagement they crave.
At the personal level, leadership flexibility is reflected in the attitudes and actions of individual executives. It involves keeping an open mind to new and different ways of managing people and work, and a willingness to unlearn old ways while embracing new ones. It also involves constantly testing your own assumptions and beliefs to see if they remain valid (if they’re even six months old, probably not).
The trees that survive a hurricane are those that bend with the wind rather than resisting it. Make flexibility part of your leadership skill set and your organization will find that it can ride out the winds of change no matter how strong they may be.
To learn more about workplace flexibility check out Holly Green’s keynote presentation at the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego, November 3rd, 2009. Click here for more details!