Could You Be Too Flexible? 3 Ways to Tell

What’s the highest compliment someone could pay you about your leadership style?

Would it be that you’re confident? Hard-charging? A good listener? How about: you’re flexible?

Most of us consider it good news if an employee or a boss tells us we’re flexible.

But if things seem to be too loose with your team lately, it could mean you’ve let your tendency to be flexible go too far.

There are several ways to tell if you could be sabotaging your team’s efforts—and your own leadership power—by being too flexible.

Some Flexibility Is Good

We know there are times when a little fluidity is normal in the way people do their jobs. After all, employees hate managers who hover, and you know your team well enough that it’s not necessary.

But managers who are too flexible hurt their own credibility, says leadership coach Michael Hyatt. People are born negotiators, he says, and can always find ways to get around rules we thought were hard-and-fast.

You set the tone of how the work in your department gets done, so you expect your employees to follow the directives you’ve set out. The key is defining some rules as non-negotiable—and making sure your team knows what they are.

Here’s 3 signs you might be too flexible and ways you can fix it:

Sign #1: You’ve let some employee conflicts fester

Do you find yourself constantly sidetracked by brokering peace negotiations among employees? That happens when you inadvertently let minor conflicts grow.

In a new survey, CFOs said they spend, on average, 15% of their time — or six hours a week — managing staff conflicts. The results are on par with similar studies conducted as far back as 1991.

“The more time managers spend reducing friction between coworkers, the less time they have for tackling business priorities,” said Mike Steinitz, executive director of Accountemps.

How to deal: Show empathy, but act decisively. Conflicts can disrupt others, so don’t let issues between a few employees take on a life of their own. Hear the employees out in an effort to understand the situation from all sides.

Then make it clear that the back-and-forth backbiting won’t be something you’re flexible about. Stress that constant fighting gets in the way of productive work and can’t be tolerated.

Sign #2: You’ve let employees set their own deadlines

This is different from letting employees work at their own pace. That’s to be encouraged, because people succeed when they’re given some freedom to work according to their strengths. Some work best under pressure, while others work at a slower pace.

It’s when you let employees set all their own goals that your flexibility can get out of hand.

When you let the chickens rule the roost, fewer eggs get hatched—the important work of every day could fall behind. And in the end, the blame finger will point at you, not your employees.

For example, say one of your employees also reports to another manager. Make sure your employee understands that while he or she may work for both of you, you still have an expectation that the employee will follow your guidelines when doing your work.

How to deal: When you let employees to set some of their own priorities, schedules and deadlines, encourage them to be aware of how getting their work done affects others.

You don’t want to set other employees or even entire departments back because you let your team decide what they’re getting done and when.

Make sure they are ready to meet certain set-in-stone deadlines and understand the ramifications if they fail to comply.

Sign #3: You’ve lost track of some team output

You told your group to let you know when Project A was finished, but you haven’t heard an update for about a month. Did they forget to keep you updated—or did you forget to ask?

You’ve been so busy that you might have let the project slip through the cracks. Now you need an update for one of your bosses—and you’re stuck with hunting down information you expected your team to bring to you.

How to deal: When you and your team juggle a lot at the same time, some work will naturally take priority. So ensure your team knows that although you’re flexible, you need periodic updates from them on each of their projects.

Have a system in place to keep them on track. You can either set up status meetings at regular intervals or send them a note for a short report back on how things are going. Or, designate a project “leader” who’s responsible for keeping you in the loop.

Leaders who show flexibility are usually respected and well-liked. Keep the above points in mind when you set boundaries and your employees will appreciate both the guidance and the freedom you allow.