July 11, 2018

Adaptable Executive Leadership Is Key to Company Success


It’s a confusing time to be an executive. For decades, best practices for corporations remained pretty much the same, making it easy to map out the path to success. The latest technological revolution has changed that over the past two decades, and company leaders must now strive constantly to present both positive external and internal brands. This comes easier to some leaders than it does to others.

In the age of work/life balance, flexible work policies, and unlimited vacation, corporate leaders are faced with two options: adapt or retire. Millennials represent the largest percentage of the workforce right now, and they’ve made it clear they won’t tolerate outdated business practices. To be attractive to top talent, companies must have flexible leaders who demonstrate a commitment to positive work environments and a willingness to implement innovative changes both internally and externally.

Flexibility Isn’t Just for Yoga

Fortunately for traditional or rigid leaders who may not want to retire just yet, flexibility can be developed. It’s not easy to change years’ or decades’ worth of leadership habits — but it isn’t impossible.

“Flexibility can be developed, but it’s difficult,” says David Solot, analytics product manager for hiring assessment firm Caliper. “Frequently, being flexible or inflexible is not a conscious choice, so leaders will have to practice new behaviors in order to change.”

Solot suggests leaders work toward increased flexibility by building “reality checkpoints” into planned executions.

“Set aside time in advance when you will stop, review the progress made to date, and study the surrounding landscape to make sure the original plan still makes sense,” Solot says. “Remember that no plan is written in stone. Plans need to change and adapt, and these checkpoints provide a structured time to do that.”

Established leaders may not want to take risks or change their styles, but it’s important to consider how one’s leadership style can impact the company brand, especially in an age when any employee or consumer can anonymously review an organization online.

“One really helpful tip for evaluating risks is to think about a one-way door or a two-way door,” Solot says. “Many risks are the equivalent of a two-way door. You take a chance in walking through it, but you can always walk back if you need to. Other risks are one-way doors. You take a chance walking through them, and there’s no easy way to go back. The risks that are one-way doors are more critical, and decisions to make them need to be considered more carefully. Try to think about whether your risk is a one-way or a two-way door, and that will help you determine if the risk is worthwhile.”

Halfway Isn’t Good Enough

When implementing changes in a company, it’s important not to let indecisiveness impact your decisions. If you know your company must change, then change it. Don’t slam on the brakes just because you aren’t sure what the exact impact of change will be.

“Don’t hedge your bets,” says Solot. “Once a decision is made, it requires 100 percent commitment. One of the surest ways to fail is to partially commit to change. To paraphrase Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid: If you walk on the left side of the road, you’re safe. If you walk on the right side of the road, you’re safe. If you walk down the middle, sooner or later, you get squished just like a grape. Don’t walk on both sides of the road. Make a decision and move on.”

Considering how your workforce will react when making decisions can be key to retention efforts. Your brand is like a two-sided coin. When decisions positively impact both the business and the workforce, the coin shines on both sides.

“Remember the key difference between managers and leaders,” Solot says. “Managers make people follow them. Leaders inspire people to want to follow them. To do this, a leader’s personality is just as important as their education and experience. Leadership is about building connections as much as it’s about building a business model. When you’ve mastered both inspiration and execution, you’ve mastered leadership.”

Listen to your workforce and listen to your customers and industry. The days where we had to pick one over the other are gone. A brand identity encompasses all sides of your company, and without a positive brand image your business will sink. As Solot says, don’t be a leader people have to follow. Be a leader they want to follow.

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Jason McDowell holds a BS in English from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. By day, he works as a mild-mannered freelance writer and business journalist. By night, he spends time with his wife and dogs, writes novels and short stories, and tries in vain to catch up on all of those superhero television shows.