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Some of the current concepts in leadership may sound like we're discussing gymnasts, not executives. This is because four steps any executive can take to improve leadership qualities sound like the purview of Olympians: gaining flexibility, getting a massage, learning to be agile, and changing your routine. 

Gaining Flexibility

Homa Bahrami, a senior lecturer with the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, identifies flexibility as one of the principal leadership qualities needed to navigate a changing business climate. 

To learn flexibility, a leader must consciously nurture several traits:

  • Versatility — wearing different hats, switching gears to match context and situation
  • Robustness — having clear intentions, absorbing shocks or disruptions, showing persistence and keeping viable
  • Resilience — bouncing back from setbacks or unexpected delays

Getting a Massage

Though it may sound like hedonistic pampering, a massage can help develop leadership qualities. Forbes magazine gathered five robust reasons to indulge in a massage:

  1. Massages spark creativity by reducing stress, allowing leaders to calm down and focus on the big picture.
  2. Massages reduce pain and boost the immune system, allowing for clear thinking.
  3. Massages improve sleep, and deep sleep is a time for the brain to discard useless information while the body repairs and tones itself.
  4. Massages increase productivity.
  5. Massages decrease cortisol, a stress hormone that blocks a person’s willingness to make bold decisions or take risks.

A calm, confident leader doesn't suffer from tunnel vision, limited by fear or panic. A massage clarifies choices and reduces pressure so the leader can make decisions, take constructive risks, and inspire others. 

Learning to be Agile

Agile thinking is constructively disruptive thinking. CIO.com points out that executives who shake up their habitual responses — who deliberately disorient themselves — gain new perspectives on handling old problems. 

Agility also means having the confidence and speed to respond to dynamic situations or avoid threats to an organization. Seizing opportunities to gain competitive advantage comes from the agility earned by working deeply to know your own motivations, desires and expectations. You respond quickly because you have no doubts as to your true position, needs and abilities. 

Changing Your Routine

Rosalinde Torres, a senior partner and managing director of a consulting firm, presented a TED talk that identified key leadership qualities by asking a straightforward question:

Are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past? 

Torres points out, “Great leaders dare to be different. They don't just talk about risk-taking, they actually do it.”

Simone Biles, U.S. gymnast expected to shine at the 2016 Summer Olympics as of this writing, is known for her hard routines that have changed and become increasingly difficult in mere months of practice. She is versatile (vault, floor, beam) yet, as the Washington Post observes, she “holds more in reserve...skills that she’ll perform when she’s feeling especially daring.” 

Biles is 19 years old. She exudes the flexibility, agility, and willingness to change that are hallmarks of a great leader. As an Olympic athlete, too, Biles no doubt enjoys a good massage. 

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