In a quick poll recently, I asked what people thought was the top trait leaders needed to exhibit and practice in 2021.  Overwhelmingly, the top answer was flexibility.  Why is it that flexibility has become the top leadership trait needed?  Maybe it might just be because we had to use our flexibility muscles more than ever in 2020!

What does it mean to be flexible as a leader?  Flexible is defined as being easily modified, ready and able to change and adapt to shifting circumstances, and pliable.  If anything, 2020 taught us the need for adapting to a changing environment!  But it seems like how our flexibility is exercised is important to consider and analyze.  So often we offer the decision around change as a reaction to a situation.  A response is a healthier approach.  Broadly, reaction stems from our emotions and response stems from our intellect.  Often in the heat of the moment when our adrenaline is high, reaction is our go-to gut instinct and often results in knee-jerk decision-making.  Yet when we slow down a bit and get our emotions in check, we are better able to offer a decision based in intellect.

Another way to think about reaction versus response it to remember that in heightened emotional situations, we take on our instinctive behavior and most natural responses.  While this serves us well in life-threatening decisions, it does not always serve us well when making strategic leadership decisions.  This is helpful to remember especially when the decision at hand is one that will live on for an extended period of time and/or have a tremendous ripple effect. 

According to, the past twenty years has seen a shift in leadership styles from autocratic and task-driven to collaborative and people-driven.  As we consider the need for flexibility in our leadership, how does this important shift add insights for us?  As leaders we often feel pressured to “just make a decision.”  And sometimes that is indeed what we need to do.  But there are often times when a more collaborative decision-making process might be more helpful for everyone.  When inviting others into the conversation, we open up the possibility of more information or insights being offered than we might have considered on our own.  It also allows others to have a voice and thus ownership in the decision made.

Flexibility in leadership is certainly more of a required trait in 2021 and beyond.  But remember, flexibility is not only called for in how we going about doing things differently.  It is also how we offer flexibility and respond differently through collaboration with others.  Collaboration can’t be used as scapegoat for decision-making, but strategic collaboration can help us build a strong flexibility muscle.