Behavioural flexibility: how to ‘flex’ your leadership to build influence

In nature, species able to adapt and evolve in changing environments have the greatest chance of survival. The same applies in business. How can we be successful in changing environments? By becoming behaviourally flexible.

Behavioural flexibility describes our ability to ‘flex’ our core behaviours so that we respond to each circumstance in the most effective way. At the heart of behavioural flexibility is the premise that the person who is the most adaptable and versatile will have the most influence. The contrast frame is the common version of insanity – doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.

Very strength has a flipside. In a recent coaching session, I asked Jess about her natural leadership style and dominant behaviours. Jess used her in-depth knowledge (having previously assumed the roles of her direct reports) to deliver results. She led from the front, knew the detail and had all the right answers. She realised that while this approach met her own needs for certainty and control, being at the centre of everything was a disservice to her team. The ‘flex’ opportunity for Jess was to let go of having the answer and to feel comfortable exploring the options and solutions with her team.

Behavioural flexibility increases when, over time, you do something different

Are you getting the results you want? If not, think about your natural leadership or influencing style and what your ‘flex’ opportunities might be.

For example: You might choose to be more assertive and speak your mind, or to step back a bit and observe how others respond first. You might choose to listen more actively or offer your opinion first. You might say a strong no, or you might ask for help more often. Rather than show frustration you could stay calm and be patient. You can delay something until you have more information or invest time in building the relationship first. You might use humour to connect with a new group of people. Rather than judge someone, you seek to understand first.

Research shows leaders who combine four to six sources of influence are ten times more successful. Behavioural flexibility matters because:

  • Leaders need to lead from the front, side and behind. Whomever is best to lead in that moment, for that situation, should do so. And if that’s someone other than the leader, that’s great.
  • Leadership occurs in shades of grey where there is ambiguity and complexity and not one ‘right’ view. That is, the decision is not binary and the ‘right’ decision still needs to be made.
  • Influence is highly situational. Everyone is unique. People are motivated by different things and each situation is different. What resonates with someone will put someone else off.
  • There is no ‘right’ leadership style, behaviours or benchmarks. In other words, the goal isn’t to become equally strong in each style. Instead it’s to be able to step into other styles with enough skill needed when the situation calls for it.

To become more adaptive, you’ll need to be prepared to try new behaviours and be open to feedback. Getting out of your comfort zone might be challenging, but the positive impact on your results has to be worth it! What leadership behaviours are you going to ‘flex’? I’d love to know.

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