As we enter the traditional holiday period, let me invite you to draw a breath, to look back at where we’ve come from since March, and to look forward at the possibilities ahead. We are free to experience many more choices. But each choice carries a risk that we need to reconcile for ourselves. Some aspects of our lives are more predictable, more known, more familiar. But uncertainty is still present and may yet close doors for us in ways we can’t anticipate.
Becoming more flexible…
What is certain – and worthy of celebration – is the heightened level of flexibility we’ve all shown. The word ‘pivot’ doesn’t do it justice, it suggests simply turning – on the spot – to look in a different direction. But what we’ve seen are demonstrations of flexibility across the spectrum and into new domains.
Some of us are Zooming who have never Zoomed before. Others are moving between multiple platforms to keep all their conversations alive. And those on the technology front line have worked around the clock, maintaining and improving the IT that keeps us connected and our organisations functioning.
Parents have shown phenomenal flexibility, balancing their children’s needs – emotional and educational – with the demands of their jobs and the tensions of working from home. And teachers have been identifying and overcoming the very different barriers that families face, often providing a tailored mix of learning: online, take-home packs and face-to-face experiences.
Our health and care workers have ridden the wave of the virus, working through the highest levels of risk and bearing the brunt of its impact. Food suppliers, processors and distributors have re-engineered their supply lines in response to our changing needs.
Companies of all sectors have listened to their customers, reshaped their business plans and thought through the measures they need to implement to keep their employees safe – knowing they may need to redraft their plans at a moment’s notice. And, of course, all of us have adapted every aspect of our lives to keep others safe: our work, our relationships, our joys and celebrations, our losses and griefs.
…and making a habit of it
Flexibility is the skill we’re witnessing around us, through these and many other examples. But it’s an observable outcome of much deeper-seated qualities. The good news is that we can develop it – we’ve all being doing so. And becoming more flexible has a far-reaching impact on our lives.
In Lean Forward into Your Life, Mary Anne Radmacher reminds us: “A key to a vital life is an eagerness to learn and a willingness to change.” Being eager and willing aren’t things we just do. They demonstrate a way of being that we think and feel our way into, grabbing every ounce of our self-confidence along the way.
An act of flexibility may start in our head, as we think through the implications of the changes we see around us and anticipate the responses we need to make. Or when we seek feedback and choose to listen to the new insights it offers us. Or when we notice new evidence that challenges an old assumption. Our openness to what’s going on around us, and our readiness to shift our thoughts and assumptions in response, fuels a growth mindset – our understanding that we can keep learning, growing and adding new talents to our repertoire.
Sometimes we find the courage to just jump in! To throw ourselves into a new experience, trusting that the resources we need will rise with us to the surface. We feel what it’s like to possess a new talent, by simply having a go at using it. We trust that trial and error – with learning and adaptation – is our route to success.
Both approaches to flexibility draw on our emotional intelligence. And both boost it, building our long-term resilience. As Reivich and Shatté explain in The Resilience Factor, resilience equips us to overcome obstacles, steer through everyday adversities, bounce back and reach out to new experiences and challenges. When flexibility becomes a healthy habit for us, we feel our resilience strengthening.
More flexible together
Covid-19 has amplified the pace of change that we’ve been facing for some time. Many of our organisations were already redeveloping structures, processes and competencies to achieve greater agility. They’ve been anticipating and riding the waves that globalisation, digitalisation, social disruption and climate disaster are creating. And it’s their leaders who turn agility from a strategic intention into action on the ground. As I shared just before lockdown, leaders boost their teams’ capacity to solve problems when they have the courage to step back, the foresight to let people step up, and the skill to listen to ignite their thinking.
Perhaps you’ve witnessed new levels of problem solving, initiative and independent thinking in yourself and your colleagues over recent months? Perhaps, as a leader, you’ve observed your team members showing up on your screen with greater confidence and maturity? Perhaps you’ve noticed yourself responding with greater trust and appreciation?
Recognising this flexibility – and the leadership qualities that support it – is vital as we prepare for the changes and uncertainties ahead. For the steps and measures we take to welcome employees back into our physical workplaces. For the new roles we may need to define. For the new teams and groups we may need to form. For the new ways of doing business we may need to adopt. And, potentially, for the appreciation and support we may need to offer to employees whose contributions our businesses no longer need or can afford.
As with all our skills, our flexibility is strengthened when we are consciously aware of it. So let me ask you the questions I’ve been offering to the leaders I coach:
- What changes in your working practices do you want to sustain?
- What changes in your working relationships are you keen to strengthen?
- What changes in your culture are you determined to embed?
- What changes in your own leadership approach do you want to hold on to?
We cannot know where we are in the lifecycle of this pandemic. And we don’t know what lies ahead. More uncertainty, for sure. But in what form? The flexibility we’ve all developed in recent months stands us in good stead. It’s something to acknowledge, honour and celebrate in ourselves and others – especially those we lead – so that it becomes the foundation for our long-term resilience.
Thanks for reading!
If you’ve enjoyed this article, I’d love to hear from you. If you think it can help others maintain their flexibility through this uncertainty, please pass it on. If you want to take time to learn more about listening to support others’ flexibility and boost their resilience, come along to our next Time to Think Partnership Retreat.
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Photo by Jesse Orrico on Unsplash