I must admit, I was cautious in using that title for this blog post. Was I about to violate the mistake I’d be writing about? The biggest leadership mistake you don’t want to make is having a lack of flexibility, so is using that title making me inflexible to the idea that there could possibly be bigger leadership mistakes than inflexibility?
To find the answer, I outlined potential flaws and mistakes made by inflexible leaders and came up with 15:
- “My way or the highway” attitude – Perhaps the most common flaw of an inflexible leader. Their final word stands overall, whether it’s truly the best decision or not. Inflexible leaders have trouble adapting to ideas and procedures that are not their own, damaging team morale in the process.
- Inability to overcome weaknesses – The higher a leader climbs within an organization, the more likely their flaws will eventually expose themselves. More responsibility means more pressure, more accountability, less room for error. As the leader climbs in their position, so should their willingness to understand their blind spots and put in the time to eradicate them.
- Having trouble pivoting when necessary – For various reasons, a leader will need to shift the direction of the team toward a different goal, task, or strategy. Obviously, a lack of flexibility will make doing this difficulty, and it could cost the team greatly.
- When things get uncomfortable, reverting to what’s comfortable – Flexible leaders aren’t afraid of uncomfortable moments. They embrace them because that’s the call of leadership, and flexible leaders learn to grow from uncomfortable moments. You can spot an inflexible leader when the going gets tough and they do what’s comfortable instead of what they should be doing.
- Personal growth and development aren’t high on the agenda – A leader needs to be willing to dive into and explore new resources for continuous leadership development. Flexible leaders are open-minded, and they have the humility to accept that as a leader, they must develop themselves in order to continually develop others.
- Trouble seeing the big picture – Many inflexible leaders think only of themselves and their specific department, while a flexible leader is more likely to think of the entire workforce and long-term health of the organization.
- Inability to prioritize – Inflexible leaders might have trouble adjusting their schedules or trouble pausing one task to take care of another one with urgency. Prioritizing tasks is essential, especially as a leader’s responsibility grows as they climb up the ladder of the organization.
- Proving you need to be right – You can often tell flexible leaders apart in this area: Inflexible leaders want to prove themselves to be right in nearly every circumstance, while flexible leaders take everything into consideration before making a decision. Also, flexible leaders are quick to admit if they are wrong, and they give credit to others when doing so.
- The need for power and control – Some people think leadership is a permit for power and control over what and who they lead. But servant leadership tells us it’s more about serving your people than having them serve you. The flexible leader knows their role is to serving others instead of imposing their will, that’s why the best talent is eager to work for them.
- Trouble accepting negative feedback – Feedback is important for growth and development. Nobody particularly enjoys hearing negative feedback, but inflexible leaders struggle greatly to hear it and use it constructively, while flexible leaders are willing to take honest criticism and use it to their advantage.
- Trouble adapting to others and trouble developing others – Flexible leaders have open-minded attitudes about their people. They see the value and the potential in their employees, which helps the leader accomplish one of the most essential tasks of great leadership: cultivating the potential in others.
- Poor listener – Listening is an underrated skill that all great leaders know is vital to their leadership. Inflexible leaders would rather talk first, often thinking they have all the answers. Flexible leaders listen first, consider the thoughts of others, and then
- Trouble expressing yourself for better employee relationships – The flexible leader is open and honest with their people, even if that means being vulnerable from time to time. And when they are, employees notice and appreciate it.
- Goal-obsession – Having goals is great, but when you mow others down in the process, it causes severe problems and can lead to irreparable relationships. Flexible leaders don’t get overly obsessed with goals because they know there are times goals need to change for the betterment of the organization. Flexible leaders aim for the target with sniper-like focus but aren’t afraid to change what they’re aiming at if they need to.
- Flexibility is important for a good work-life balance – Flexibility allows a leader to know when to take a step back and spend quality time away from work.
Being inflexible can be detrimental to your ability to influence, especially at a high level. In a recent John Maxwell Leadership podcast, Maxwell explains that you can get to the top if you’re rigid, but you won’t stay forever. An inflexible leader might get their foot in the door and be given a shot to lead, but that period is a proving ground. If a leader remains inflexible, their time in that position has an expiration date, and it might be costly for the organization.
Learn to be a more flexible leader by evaluating how you’re doing in the 15 areas above. Even just one or two of these symptoms can cap your ability to lead others. If you struggle with any of the mistakes or flaws listed, begin working on them through personal development or by seeking feedback and counsel on how to improve upon these mistakes.