By Cristina Sendino, partner at Madavi
There are times that I feel dragged away by the sea of words that surround me. Some of them have been repeated so often during my life that I no longer know how often I have heard, analyzed or written them… With regards to professional skills as my experience changed so did their meaning evolve.
Lately the word flexibility is following me around. Indeed, I believe I may have even had some nightmares about the word.
“I imagined myself to be like Elastigirl, from “The Incredibles”
It all started a few years ago. One started to work so eagerly and did so with a lot of effort and hope when you heard: “In this work Cristina, you need to be flexible” and I y imagined myself to be like Elastigirl (the protagonist of the Disney film “The Incredibles”) and I would bend and stretch and twist to resolve the most difficult mysteries of my work and that of those that I had around me.
As I gained professional experience my understanding of the word started to change. On occasions I even thought that I was going to be cut up into pieces (I apologize for being so graphic) from the need to stretch and bend so much.
Thus, in that position which was so “comfortable” I found myself requiring the people of my team to be flexible. What I do not remember is the definition that I was using at that time. Being honest what I wanted was that they would adapt to my opinion, my will, my attitude. I do not know if that was being a good leader. Well, I know it was not … but the truth is that I am not going to punish myself for that.
I participated in the definition of skills that we were going to use in evaluating the work done. I remember those days pretty well because I learnt a lot listening to what was said around me. It was a lesson in humility. Now that I think about it perhaps it was then that the seed of good leadership was sown. The result was that that work confirmed flexibility was very important for companies. We have lived times of many changes and variations. An exponencial growth that required rapid movement. We were faced by challenges which it did not seem we would overcome. We got over crises, negotiations, changes of direction, rudeness, deceptions, surprising decisions, including being personally implied, and always using flexibility… Now from a distance and from the situation we are living they seem so, so small.
We thought it would be inviable for our suppliers to adapt to our conditions, that they would permit placing a bar code on their products. But they did so.
We thought it impossible that after a typhoon that sufficient products would reach our clients. But we managed it.
We thought it incredible that we could reach those sales figures, but we did.
Until a few months ago we felt proud of those stories about crises in which we had given our best. When we remembered those moments some of the strengths which had helped us the most to overcome them were the capacity to adapt and to be flexible. We adapted to circumstance and passed with flying colors and managed to guide the team to obtain the best possible result.
I remember a colleague, who was a bit of a pessimist, telling me every year: “ufff Cristina, this is the worst year we have lived”. What would he say now?
“Flexibility is one of the fundamental pillars for our development“
Truth be told I have always believed that people are quite flexible, it is in our DNA. We are a species with a metallic spring that stretches, contracts and folds over. Like good metal we are maleable and ductile and above all good conductors of temperature and electricity. With some warmth, good communication, respect and confidence we are cable of achieving what we could not imagine. And by Jove! What we have passed this year was the definitive proof.
I suspect that flexibility is one of the fundamental pillars of our growth as persons and leaders. The way we maintain the temperature of the metal of our springs will define our capacity to take our teams to the next level. What level? Well, whatever is needed and of course overcoming all the obstacles we find in our path. One that has been stalking us for some months is fatigue and going back to the dictionary one of the definition is: “loss of mechanical resistance of a material, when it is submitted for a long time to repeated stress”.
What is going to help us then? The key is to train and practice flexibility. I am talking about training our and of course that of our teams. In this situation which we are living we have to be careful with this training since (and to use a sporting simile) the training has been very quick, the muscle has not had enough time to adapt to the new elongation and on the other hand you have forced the least flexible parts that make up an articulation.
Each person needs a training routine and the fact of not training correctly the flexibility can produce the following: deformations in the position (confrontations) and increase the possibilities of having injuries (contagious)…for example, when the cut back on our freedom and make us feel that we are made to feel that we are stretching (or that they are making us stretch) Yes! But what for? In which direction? Until when?
We look for the adequate tools to observe and listen to each person in our team, be it when we see them in the office or on the screen (what might have served before may no longer do so) and let us help them to maintain balance so we do not reach the situation where someone breaks from stretching too much. Even the most maleable metals have a breaking point.
Remember what was the best we have achieved by being flexible and how can we do it even better and what actions to take to put it into action.