This series of posts describes what we’ve learned about the peculiarities of leadership in academia based on our work with the CPI 260® leadership assessment. See the introduction to this series for background on this assessment.
How does Flexibility relate to a role in academia?
Today’s post is on the Flexibility measure which includes characteristics such as a preference for variety and being quick-thinking and clever. Once again, the pattern emerges: the average for faculty is higher than the average score for business leaders.
This one is not so surprising. Those who choose the less structured life of academia have self-selected out of more routine options; many aspects of the culture of higher ed are likely to reinforce this trait as well. Furthermore, both teaching and research demand a capacity to go beyond the known or the predictable into discovery where new knowledge, insights, and applications might be found.
The challenges of Flexibility
This tendency toward flexibility has its challenges, too. Any staff member who has ever tried to pin down a faculty member will attest to that. A propensity to imagine alternatives can wreak havoc in circumstances where little or no adaptability exists (regulations, some deadlines, and even routine procedures designed to keep the day-to-day work flowing). When this is combined with a presumed entitlement to flexibility, the interpersonal and institutional fallout can be enormous.
From a leadership perspective, a high degree of flexibility can also undermine progress. Plans get abandoned in the face of new information or opportunities, intentions morph, and agreements weaken. But a flexible leader is also able to catch the right timing, adapt to feedback, and develop buy-in.
In fact, a higher flexibility score is often associated with stronger leadership. It is important, however, that the flexibility is well-suited to what needs to get done. The key is paying attention to the communication, interactions, and application of the flexibility.