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.


  1. Juan says:

    Thanks for this great insight into leadership! Leadership skills are so very important and I can see where I can work on some areas and become a great leader!