Wisdom requires a flexible mind.
- Dan Carlin
If I could turn the clocks back and do a few things differently, there is certainly one thing that I would have embraced much earlier on in my life, and that is yoga. Without wanting to sound evangelistic, it is something that has literally changed my life not only physically, but it has also had a very positive impact on my emotional wellbeing.
Countless studies demonstrate the effect that practicing yoga can have on reducing stress levels, and one of the other great benefits is how much it improves your range of motion and ultimately your physical flexibility. In many ways it is a truly liberating experience because over time it helps to build core strength and nimbleness.
So, in a world where the pace of change requires us all to be more and more adaptable, it is reassuring to know that as we are able to exercise our bodies to improve our physical flexibility, we can indeed do the same with our minds.
Thankfully, we have now entered an age where flexibility and innovation matter much more than antiquated experiences or decades-old qualifications. Staying relevant in the fourth industrial revolution is about staying current, adopting a growth mindset and embracing fresh thinking. We are, after all, perpetual students in the university of life and continuous learning is the key to thriving.
One of my favorite books was written in 1970 by Alvin Toffler who is regarded as one of the world's most outstanding futurists. The book is called Future Shock and there is a very powerful quote that says:
The illiterate of the 21st century won’t be those who can’t read or write it will be those who have the inability to learn, unlearn and relearn.
It is wise to appreciate that what is relevant today may not be relevant for the future and the willingness and ability to ’unlearn’ is as important as our ability to learn. This of course requires an open and flexible mind. Our ability to disengage from one task and respond to another or to think about multiple concepts at the same time is fundamental to thriving in most modern workplaces. Someone who is flexible will learn quicker, as well as being able to adapt and respond to new situations more easily and in a much smarter and appropriate way.
What is flexibility?
Behavioral flexibility and cognitive flexibility are terms that are used in the field of experimental psychology to identify a form of cognition that enables humans to adapt their behaviour according to changing environmental situations. The etymology of the word flexibility is the capacity to bend without breaking and in a world that is in a constant state of flux this is a powerful skill.
In many ways, a flexible mind allows us to expand our thinking and explore and discover a broader range of options that are potentially available to us. Being able to think on our feet and adjust accordingly will help us to be responsive and agile.
So how do leaders empower flexibility?
As a flexible leader you will need to adapt well to changes and be willing to revise your plans to incorporate new innovations and overcome challenges, while still achieving your goals. You will also need to possess the ability to think about situations and consider as many different elements as possible in the time you have available. The antiquated "one-size-fits-all" approach to leadership simply does not work anymore. In a truly inclusive workplace, flexible leaders recognize that different people and situations require different leadership styles and approaches.
Leading through uncertainty and ambiguity is the new normal, especially in these unprecedented times. Flexible leaders embrace change, demonstrate a growth mindset and embrace working with a wide spectrum of people.
What I love about flexibility is how tangibly useful it is in a crisis and I would like to share with you three key approaches that are fundamental to empowering flexibility within your team:
1. Constantly review and refresh your perspective
The pace of change right now is relentless, and it is important to factor in time to stop and reflect and refresh your understanding of both internal and external factors that may well be impacting on your organization's effectiveness. This will help you to be constantly on top of what approaches are most likely to work best and how to prioritize and balance the need for urgency and diligence.
2. Flex your leadership style
Having knowledge and a good understanding of the different styles of leadership can be very helpful in terms of improving your ability to be more flexible. As we have previously established, in a world of rich diversity one style of leadership doesn’t get the best results from everyone. The ability to flex your approach to suit the needs of each individual and each situation is key to achieving the best outcomes.
3. Lead by example
It isn’t enough to know and show people the way, you also need to go the way. Modelling the behaviors that are required to be flexible is one of the most important tasks for any leader and especially in times of constant flux and uncertainty. Leading by example is one of the most powerful ways you will instil trust and confidence in a high performing team.
These are just a few examples of how great leaders can best support their teams to be truly empowered and flexible.
The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.
- Kakuzo Okakura