Flexible Management

“We are set in our ways, bound by our perspectives and stuck in our thinking.”
 Joel Osteen


As we age, we become more set in our ways.  Most of us have a favorite meal, television shows, places to visit, streets we follow to work, and even comfortable chairs.  With the recent holidays, most of us probably had the joy and adventure of witnessing how “set” our family members are in their daily practices. What time to eat, what to eat, and who does what are all major topics at the typical holiday celebration.  As human beings, we gain comfort in predictability and regularity.

When we are young, we spend considerable time trying to establish our own identity and breaking with our childhood norms.  As we age, we become comfortable in our routines and what we have seen work time and again.  Scientific American in a December 2008 article identified the age of 20 as a key milestone of the time of change and transition (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=set-in-our-ways).  From 20 until 60 as we deal with more responsibility, we cling to those things that we know work.  At 60, we open ourselves again to new experiences and opportunities for growth as family and work responsibilities tend to diminish some.  After this brief opening, most people return to a renewed comfort zone that continues until their end of their life.

As managers, we follow a growth path as well.   Our thinking and development changes as we enter the workforce, advance in our career, and take on more management responsibility.  As we progress in an organization and life, we form opinions and ideas of how to be an effective manager.  Moreover, it is common to subscribe to the idea that there is one effective way to manage.  Most management ideas make the claim that they hold the key or secret ingredient to success and once known and utilized success will follow.  Once we are quasi-successful and believe we have it, it is very hard to change our mind to use alternative approaches.

Most of us develop our management style over time and based on our own experiences, ideas we come in contact with, and interpretation of events around us.  Issues start to arise once we find that our standard approach does not work with some people or situations.  Why does a single approach typically not work?

  • Different people respond to different methods – Each person is a little different and has to be motivated and engaged in the method most appropriate to the individual.  It is easy to assume that one size fits all, but reality quickly reminds us that the tradeoff for ease is less productivity and effectiveness.
  • Environment dictates the best tool – The environment in which we work including the internal and external factors set the stage for what will be successful.  Just as individuals vary, environments or circumstances do as well.
  • Change is a part of life as well as business – We constantly have to redefine ourselves to keep up with the natural changes that occur around us.

Flexibility is a critical ability of managers as well as leaders.  We can all think of examples where organizations, teams, as well as individuals have mistakenly assumed that something that works in one situation will work in all others.  To be our best, we have to be willing to change to match our circumstances and those around us.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Charles Darwin

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