Leadership and the Qualities of Steadfast Flexibility and All-Knowing Ignorance

If you read this headline and feel that the range of qualities covered tend not to meld well together, then please bear with me for a few minutes. The point I’m aiming to make is that an effective leader will not be all things to all people, but might be different things to different people at appropriate moments.

As we work our way through a presidential election campaign – and no, I’m not going to take sides or start arguments – whoever wins will need to behave differently, depending on the audience being spoken to, or with. At moments of trauma, a president will often need to be calm and measured to help assuage the public mood, but might be much more forthright within the walls of the Oval Office about how the nation’s actual response would be undertaken. So, let’s take time to consider the two pairs of qualities suggested in my headline.

First, we’ll look at steadfast flexibility

Many people, when criticizing their boss, will tell you that they feel a real sense of annoyance if they simply don’t know where they stand. Ineffective leaders change their mind with the wind, and are not steadfast. Members of a company, or individual teams within it, should be quite clear about what the leader expects from and of them on a day-by-day basis. The individuals should know exactly how that leader will behave when a set of circumstances occur, based on their ongoing experience of similar situations. In other words, their leader will be steadfast, particularly if the currents are strong and the shoreline rocky.

Equally, frustration grows with a leader who will never change their position, even when circumstances have clearly and substantially altered the situation. Simply doing what has always been done is neither steadfast, or even leadership. It’s stubbornness, and that’s a polite term for such behavior. Flexibility is shown in a willingness to take new ideas and changed situations on board, and then to deliver a new position from which that leader can, once again, be constant and steadfast.

Which brings us to all-knowing ignorance

This is more tongue-in-cheek, yet with a serious point. The ignorance is about those moments when, quite frankly, it’s best for a leader not to want to know. This isn’t about repeated and escalating situations, it’s about simply noting what has happened, not reacting in a way that can make that moment worse, and then keeping it perhaps to be referenced at a more optimal time. Which, of course, covers the all-knowing component! The other way that all-knowing is not to be taken literally is that no-one really expects their leader to know everything about everything within their workplace environment. All-knowing might be termed ‘enough-knowing’ – a position from which the right questions can be asked, an accurate assessment considered, and practical guidance delivered.

About leadership juxtapositions

John C Maxwell, such a prolific writer on the subject of leadership, once said: ‘A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way’. I entirely agree and have merely aimed to point out here that sometimes the way changes, as, when appropriate, will the attitude and actions of an effective leader.