Being Malleable

5 October 2016

Malleability and Adaptive Leadership

While it is a very long time ago, I still remember being in my year 8 science class and first learning about malleable metals (e.g. gold, silver, copper, lead and aluminium) – those metals that can be hammered, pressed or rolled into thin sheets without breaking.  This was around the same time the Periodic Table became my friend as I learnt a “song” to help me to remember all the elements.  (As an aside, a cute modern day version of a song can be found on YouTube)

Since that time I have always been attracted to the word malleable (particularly now that I can spell it).  This interest further peaked as I moved into leadership roles combined with the discoveries in neuroscience (the study of the nervous system and the brain).  Neuroplasticity is the term used when referring to the malleability of the brain. Neuroscience has proved that it is possible to change the way we behave with the motivation and support – due to the brain’s malleability.

Qualities of Malleable Leaders

The leaders I now work with sit along a spectrum of malleability. I am not referring to those leaders who “flip/flop’ with decisions; are influenced by the loudest person in the room or easily manipulated. I am talking about those leaders who can adapt their behaviours, thoughts and feelings to the changing environment in which they operate.

From my experience, those leaders who are malleable:

  • embrace ambiguity
  • cope with uncertainty
  • take calculated risks
  • are keen collaborators
  • stay calm under pressure (but not robotic!)
  • accept that failures happen and learn from mistakes

So how do you become more malleable?

  • Prime your brain – just like warming up before exercise – craft an expanding belief and say it ten times prior to getting out of bed. For example, Being more malleable will make me a better leader or I can create the person I want to be or  Trying new things is the only way to be.
  • Take notice – of how you are feeling (maybe even write it down) – and repeat this at different points during the day so you can decide how to respond these feelings.
  • Seek out diversity – seek out people who are different from you and who dare to challenge you.
  • Do something different – everyday – this may be as simple as walking a different way to work; or not checking your emails every half hour; or eating something new – doing something different may make you uncomfortable and could move you out of any rut or routine that is working against you.
  • Laugh – at yourself – it may help diffuse the situation; generate new ideas and help see things from an alternate perspective.
  • Reflect – take the time to think about what you did yesterday and how you handled the situation and what you will do next time when that situation arises.

Being malleable won’t happen instantly but the benefits personally and professionally will be worth their weight in gold [Atomic Number: 79; Symbol: Au].

Kerryn Fewster

Kerryn is the Founder and Director of Change 2020. She has consulted extensively in the area of Transition and Transformation. She places emphasis on strategy development and solution implementation to minimise people and operational impacts associated with major change.

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