Team Leadership- Flexibility is Key

Posted on November 28, 2009


Many less experienced leaders often fall into the trap of creating an ‘ideal’ leadership blueprint, a leadership template which they believe can be applied throughout the numerous teams they would possibly work with. After all, it certainly sounds great to have a holy grail for their leadership journey, right?

This leadership lesson is hence about flexibility, and is written to pre-empt new leaders and warn them against being a victim of the lack of flexibility. All to often, junior leaders and managers possess the belief that by having a ‘template’ plan as to how to manage a team, they would be able to lead any team. What’s missing here? Fundamentally, their belief is based on the assumption that all teams CAN be managed in a similar manner and hence implies that they are somewhat the same. We all know that this presupposition is flawed, don’t we? All teams consist of different spectra of characters and have different work cultures and environment and certainly MUST NOT be managed using a blueprint.

Back at the good old country club, there used to be a manager, Bob, who headed an adjacent department of mine. Even before taking office and seeing his team for the first time, Bob already had colourful plans and goals for his team. He was already clear how things ‘ought’ to be done in any team, and expect full compliance from his subordinates. All well and good, but for the fact that he had no inkling of the existing working culture of the team. Not surprisingly, his subordinates did not take his flowery plans well, and resented his constant nagging at them to do things his way. Their ‘outright rebellion’ certainly caused him to be quite taken aback as clearly, what used to work with his previous team was not working at all.

This lesson shows us a few insights. First and foremost, using a standard approach on a team thinking that it would always work is definitely a foolish thing to do. We have to remember to consider the existing working culture of the team, the different personalities of the team as well as the methods to motivate the team which works. It would be helpful, especially for leaders new to the working environment, to take some time to observe the existing culture and structure before deciding on an approach. Secondly, while it is helpful to have a vision for your team, it is nothing more than your personal goal until you convince the team to subscribe to your ideas. Until a total buy-in is achieved, your vision will mean nothing to your team.

A team could be motivated by competition. Another could be motivated by co-operation. Yet another could be motivated by fear of punishment. The key is flexibility; know your team before deciding what makes their clocks tick. So, if your team is not responding to your approaches, could it mean that you are being inflexible and that it’s time to change an approach?


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