Is Flexibility a Sign of Wishy-Washy Leadership?

This past week, I met a gentleman who was thrust into a position of leadership at a young age.  Over the years, he has held a variety of leadership positions and, by all accounts, has acquitted himself very well in each of those positions.  As we talked about the qualities of a great leader, he suggested a trait which many would find surprising … flexibility.  I asked him to explain what he meant.  Here is his answer.

“If a leader wants to be a great leader, he or she can’t assume that his or her way is the only way to do something.  A leader needs to listen to the followers … the people that he or she leads.  When they’re the ones on the front line, they often have insights that the leader can benefit from.  They see changes in the marketplace … they see how situations and circumstances change … how some actions might have unanticipated consequences.  The leader needs to be willing and able to adjust when changes have occurred or can be foreseen.

“Think of it this way.  When a hurricane comes, we often see houses blown down and trees still standing.  Why?  Because the house is inflexible.  It was designed and built to stay right where it is; unchanged; unbending.  On the other hand, the tree bends with the wind.  It flexes.  It usually sheds leaves.  It may occasionally lose a limb.  But, in the end, it is still standing when the storm passes.

“The real leader is the same way.  The leader may see some preconceived ideas blown away; may have to give up a pet project or an idea that is shown to be impractical or unsuccessful; may find that those he or she leads have great ideas that can make the team, the project, the endeavor more effective, efficient, successful.  When the leader demonstrates this kind of flexibility, everyone on the team wins and the project is successfully completed.”

Great leaders will study the tree in the hurricane and benefit from the lessons it teaches.  The boss will see the house; fail to heed its lessons; and, in the end, be overwhelmed and swept away.


It’s hard to believe, but not only is 2013 already here, nearly two full weeks are already gone!  Do you have goals for the new year; a plan for reaching those goals?  If you haven’t already done so, now would be a good time to …

•    Write down your goals – Write down what the goal is, what it looks like, how it will feel to achieve it.  Be specific.  The more specific the goal, the easier it will be to see where you stand as you work toward it and know when you’ve reached it.

•    Tell others what your goals are – This is not about “bragging rights”.  Rather, it is about accountability.  In the Speakers’ Academy, we have accountability partners; someone who will help us hold ourselves accountable for working toward and ultimately attaining the goals that we have set for ourselves.  Your accountability partner can be a single individual or a group of people who support you and want to see you succeed; your personal “board of directors”.

•    Believe that you can reach your goals – You’ve got to believe in yourself and in your ability to achieve the goals that you have set for yourself.  The great W. Clement Stone wrote that, “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve”.  When you believe in yourself, really believe, your brain has the capacity to focus like a laser on the goal and the actions that must be taken to reach it.  Without belief, there can be no focus.

•   Make the goals measurable – Earlier, I said “be specific”.  Specificity makes it easy to measure your progress.  A vague goal such as “I’m going to make more sales this year” has no real power, no real motivation, and no clearly defined actions that must be taken.  A specific goal, “I’m going to increase sales by 10%” leads to specific action steps such as, “To increase sales by 10%, I must make three additional sales presentations every week, which means I must add ten additional qualified prospects to my sales pipeline every week.” With these specific action steps, you can measure your progress every day.

•    Challenge yourself – While it may feel good to reach the same easy goal every year, it’s not possible to grow by pursuing this strategy.  A wise man once told me that “when you’re green, you grow … when you’re ripe, you rot”.  Goals that do not challenge us do not empower us to grow.  Many performance reviews are based on a three step model … Base Acceptable Minimum Performance (BAM), Desired Goal, and Stretch Goal.  BAM may allow you  to keep your job (for now), but it probably puts you #1 on the list of people to cut if the company decides it needs to reduce personnel.  Dare to dream … dream big … it’s impossible to soar with the eagles if you’re not willing to reach for the stars.  Make your goals big enough to inspire you to strive for greatness; to motivate you to “go the extra mile”.

•    Set a deadline for reaching each of your goals – my first agency manager constantly reminded the new and veteran agents in the office that “goals are simply dreams with deadlines”.  Without a “due date”, goals are little more than dreams that are seldom achieved.  When you commit to reaching the goal by a specific date, you have committed yourself to doing what is needed to reach the goal by that date.

Now is the time to map out the goals, the destinations, that you want to reach in 2013.  The goals you set and the actions that you take to reach them will determine how you see this year when you look back at it from some future date.  The future is in your hands.  Make it a great one!