The global pandemic has put pressure on workforces in more ways than ever before. Economic uncertainty leaves companies wearily contemplating downsizing, employees in constant fear of losing job security, and leaders questioning whether their typical methods for managing modern teams still work. These unpredictable circumstances make it imperative for management to adopt flexible leadership.
What Is Flexible Leadership?
Flexible leadership is management’s ability to quickly adapt in a dynamic professional environment based on the needs of their team and the needs of the business. As a leader, this requires an ability to diverge from your natural leadership style to fit the demands of a diverse group of team members.
Flexible leaders are open to new ideas, inclusive of perspectives different than their own, non-defensive, and have healthy relationships with each member of their team. They work hard to understand their team members’ specific learning and communication styles, which helps to lead them most effectively.
Why Adopt Flexible Leadership Now?
The importance of adopting flexible leadership practices becomes increasingly evident by the day. Initial stay-at-home orders forced companies to allow their teams to work from home, but as the pandemic continues, the flexibility of remote work has become a high priority for employees everywhere. In fact, one survey shows that close to 98% of employees would want to work remotely, at least partially, for the rest of their career.
Add to that the fact that employees’ lives now are completely different from the way they were before. Whether they’re taking care of sick relatives, struggling with illness themselves, homeschooling a child as a working parent, or working from home in a situation that is less than ideal, flexibility is vital to the work week.
Remote work has even given employees the opportunity to relocate. Some are looking to move closer to family, others are flocking to more-affordable areas, and others are simply moving to the city of their dreams because the flexibility of remote work has allowed them to do so. It’s no secret that the pandemic has revealed a dire need for flexibility and support from leadership, so what can leaders do to adopt this mindset?
Ways To Be A Flexible Leader
To lead effective, high-performing teams, leaders should develop their ability to be flexible in their leadership style and approach. Here are some things you can do as a leader to improve your flexibility in today’s business environment:
Develop Personal Relationships
Fostering a personal relationship with your team members will provide the foundation necessary for a healthy, successful professional relationship. Ask your team members how they are doing in and outside of work. Allow them to share personal details about their lives and allow yourself to do the same. Make the most of your team’s time at work by planning ahead and anticipating obstacles before they occur; this shows respect for your team’s time and other responsibilities and will help them to establish better work-life balance. Showing your team members that you care about them as people, not just employees, will help build trust, boost their motivation, and increase their overall performance.
Offer Personal and Professional Support
Help your team members set SMART goals and meet with them periodically to ensure those goals are attainable and promote professional growth. Being there to answer any questions and guide employees in their career paths is a given when it comes to being a leader, but you would do well to take it a step further. Some employees may be caring for a sick relative, while others may be moving across the country to work for your company. Situations like these some with an opportunity to lend a helping hand; contact your HR team to learn about paid family leave benefits, or help employees who are relocating by learning about relocation assistance or providing an online resource for real estate listings. In transformative or uncertain circumstances, any gesture from a superior can go a long way to motivate a team member and even support their overall health.
Ask for Feedback
Feedback is critical to being a flexible leader, as it will help you understand how your team is responding to your leadership, what works for them, and how to pivot when necessary. Perhaps your hands-off methods of managing your team have been causing some teammates to fall behind, or maybe your daily check-ins have been impeding workflow. Without requesting regular feedback from your team, you’ll never know how to adjust (or that you need to adjust in the first place). Schedule routine surveys or conversations that give employees the opportunity to reflect on what does and does not work for them so that you can become a better leader for them and change your approach when necessary.
Facilitate Open Communication
Encouraging others to communicate openly and being clear and direct in your expectations for your team can help you to avoid a lot of conflicts down the road. Be sure to periodically reiterate or adapt your expectations to reflect the changing needs of your team and the business. To reward and motivate employees when they have met or exceeded expectations, provide recognition and reinforcement. Showing public appreciation, offering incentives, or even rewarding teams with a free, unexpected meal or gift card can go a long way towards keeping them engaged and productive while working from home. In addition, create an appropriate platform for team members to voice their opinions, engage in constructive dialogue, and work towards consensus when workplace conflicts arise.