The Ultimate Flex: Using Adaptive Leadership to Get the Most From Your Team

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Our mission at Fringe PD is to help people communicate better and create more human workplaces.

If you manage people, you may never have considered whether your leadership style hinders your team’s potential. But it’s an important question to ask. Whether you have reflected on it or not, now is a great time to explore how flexing your leadership style – adapting outside of your comfort zone – may improve your relationships and outcomes.

Before we jump in, what do we mean by “leadership style”? In this context, we’re talking about the way that you interact with your team, including how you communicate, how you complete team goals, and how you manage yourself and others. 

As a leader of people, having a consistent style is crucial. After all, your team benefits from consistency and clarity. But knowing when and where to adapt can make all the difference in unlocking your team’s capabilities. We often find that the leaders we work with lean too far in one direction or another. They either bend to the whim of every team member, creating chaos for their team and leaving themself feeling like they’re being pulled in a million directions, or they “are who they are” and refuse to adapt, leaving their team feeling unheard and boxed in. 

Let’s dive into the challenges of holding strong vs. flexing, the consequences of an inflexible approach, and how you can more effectively adapt. 

The Benefits of Having a Well-Defined Leadership Style:

It’s important to note that having a well-defined leadership style is important for every leader. You are always you, and this isn’t about changing your personality or your values. But you want to do some reflection and understand what your leadership style is so that you can adapt it when necessary. 

There are great benefits to having a clear and consistent style. Having an established style often helps build trust within a team, as it allows folks to understand their leader and get to know how to effectively work with them. This trust creates a more collaborative atmosphere, where team members feel empowered to share ideas, suggest solutions, and work together. But maintaining a clear and consistent style is not the same as establishing a rigid style, which has drawbacks.

The Pitfalls of Rigid Leadership:

Leaders who remain steadfast in their approach, unwilling to adapt to their team’s needs because they are, after all, “in charge,” often face diminished productivity, disengagement, and a lack of innovation. While a command and control leadership style can be effective in certain situations, it becomes counterproductive when it stifles creativity, disregards individual strengths, and fails to address changing circumstances. It’s essential to recognize the drawbacks of rigidity and understand that leadership isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.

Consider a detail-oriented manager who insists on sticking to the plan regardless of the curveballs thrown at a project. They may struggle to lead effectively in chaotic environments where quick decisions are needed. The inflexible approach of this manager will likely prevent their team from reaching their full potential. 

The Art of Flexing:

Flexing requires self-awareness and a deep understanding of team members’ behaviors, motivations, and aspirations. By developing this insight, you can tailor your leadership style to their needs while remaining true to your values. Flexing situationally and strategically is vital; it’s not about yielding to every request that comes your way. Instead, it’s about discerning the moments where adaptation can foster growth, collaboration, and overall team success.

For example, a leader who typically provides their team with a detailed outline for how they want to address a problem may find immense benefit in giving their team more leeway when facing complex or novel challenges. By giving goals and guidance, but allowing the team to create the strategy for completion, the leader can encourage and draw out creative and innovative solutions that they may have never discovered on their own. 

And flexibility doesn’t only apply on the team level. Leaders can build stronger relationships with each of their team members if they understand how those individuals prefer to communicate and meet them in that style where appropriate. While a particular manager might love to engage in small talk and to get to know folks on a personal level, a team member may be more reserved and prefer to keep conversations strictly business. If the manager persists in trying to ask questions about this person’s personal life, the team member may feel uncomfortable and seek to lessen their interaction with their manager. On the other hand, if the manager picks up on this person’s style and adapts, they can keep their conversations more focused on the work at hand and build their relationship through those interactions, keeping the team member at ease. 

Concrete Strategies for Determining When to Flex:

So how do we know when it’s time to be flexible and when it’s time to stick to our leadership preferences? Cultivate the following skills, and this question will become easier to answer for yourself. 

  1. Embrace Active Listening: Create an open environment where team members feel heard, valued, and encouraged to share. Actively listen, seeking to understand their perspectives and motivations, and pick up on what about their values, preferences, and style they’re communicating to you between the lines.
  2. Assess Situational Needs: Evaluate the unique dynamics and challenges of each situation. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of your team members, the project requirements, and external factors impacting the task at hand. Adjust your leadership style accordingly. If you manage everyone in the same way, that’s a big sign that it’s time to reassess the effectiveness of that approach.
  3. Cultivate Emotional Intelligence: Develop your ability to empathize and connect with others. Remember that we’ve graduated from the Golden Rule (treat others how you want to be treated) to the Platinum Rule: treat others the way that they want to be treated. Understanding others’ wants and needs will help you more effectively adapt when appropriate.
  4. Encourage Autonomy: Trust your team members to make decisions within their areas of expertise. Empower them to take ownership, fostering a sense of accountability and innovation.
  5. Continuously Learn and Grow: Be open to feedback and reflect on your leadership practices. In fact, don’t just be open to feedback, but actively seek it out from your team members. We often don’t have a good sense of how others perceive us, and we can’t understand that unless we specifically ask for it. (Check out this article for more tips on how to get helpful feedback as a leader.)

By flexing your leadership style, you can tap into your team’s diverse talents and strengths, fostering an environment that encourages collaboration, creativity, and high performance. Remember, the goal isn’t to abandon your core values and principles but to adapt your approach so that everyone on your team can succeed. 

As a leader, your ultimate goal is to create an environment where your team thrives. This requires a thoughtful balance between holding strong and flexing, which can only be achieved through building self-awareness and emotional intelligence to understand how your style impacts each of your team members. Embrace the power of flexing, and watch your team achieve new heights of success, innovation, and fulfillment.

Reach out for more ideas on how you can develop your own leadership style and effectively communicate with and manage your team.


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