Leadership with Cognitive flexibility — A must-have skill in today’s growing leaders!

Bhavik Sarkhedi
5 min readAug 21

Cognitive flexibility is known as the human ability or skill to shift focus from one single task and respond to another as well as handle multiple concepts in the mind, altogether at the same time. It is not about being able to do lots of things at the same time, but simply being able to appreciate different perspectives and shifting your approach conditional on the situation to arrive at the best possible result.

According to a survey report from the World Economic Forum that looked at the future of jobs across nine different industries in fifteen of the world’s largest economies, more emphasis would be placed on cognitive abilities such as creativity and adaptability. So, building the skills cognitive flexibility is a great way to develop professionally and keep up with the progressing work environment of the future.

Key elements of cognitive flexibility

The key elements of cognitive flexibility are seen as;

o Transition and attention — Cognitive flexibility most often refers to the ability to shift thoughts between multiple concepts. To explain, let’s take an example, say you are in a group of two friends and one starts talking about the rules of the game of baseball. Abruptly, the other friend starts talking about French literature. In such a situation, the skill to transition between the two concepts concurrently would be considered flexibility of cognition essentially.

o Updating beliefs & cognition — In some cases, cognitive flexibility can refer to updating cognitive function as an adaptation to new information. For example, even after genius Copernicus suggested that the sun was the center of the solar system, which was a piece of upgraded information in those times, many people lacked the cognitive flexibility to accept this concept.

o Multi-faceted observation — Cognitive flexibility can sometimes refer to considering multiple elements of observation simultaneously. For example, let’s say you’re looking at an object and notice that it is red in color. In addition to the color, you may consider other descriptors such as shape, cost, fragility, texture, density, and so on. Your ability to connect certain observable aspects is considered cognitive flexibility.

o Deconstructing thoughts — When posed with a complex thought or problem, cognitive flexibility can help deconstruct the complexity into smaller chunks. The capacity to shift between specific elements or parameters of a bigger problem in an effort to solve it — is cognitive flexibility.

o Expanded recognition — Cognitive flexibility is also an ability to consciously recognize all of the possible choices and alternatives in a specific scenario. For example, while playing a game of poker you may understand that although you have a Full House, other players could have a superior hand, say a 4-of-a-Kind, or an inferior hand like a High Card.

Purpose of cognitive flexibility

Cognitive flexibility significantly works to address main goals which include;

· Helping people to learn important but difficult and complex matter

· Fostering adaptively flexible knowledge in real world

· Changing underlying ways of thinking

· Developing a learning environment to promote complex understanding

· Best application of the flexible knowledge gathered

Famous authors, Spiro and Feltovich came up with a technique to measure cognitive flexibility in self. Think of an example of when you have had to be flexible in a situation or change. Then use the STAR technique to describe it. (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272177675_Cognitive_Flexibility_Theory_Advanced_Knowledge_Acquisition_in_Ill-Structured_Domains)

S Define the Situation — Describe the context, and what the problem or issue is.

T Identify the Task — Recognize what needs to be done and look for solutions.

A Describe your Action — Deliver the action plan to solve the problem or any situation at hand.

R Explain the Result — See the outcome of your actions, what did you achieve?

To simplify it further with an example, let’s say, a professional is transferred internally and appointed as the new manager to a team of people who have been having issues with their previous managers & within the team. He never had such a situation with his previous teams.

This is a changed situation for him. His first step is to see what the issue is and who all in the team are facing it. So, here he could Define the Situation.

Next, he takes the lead in getting these issues resolved. He calls on each team member and listens to their part of the story to understand what exactly is the root cause of their discomfort and frustration. He now did Identify the Task.

After completing all interactions, he realizes he has to work on the team members’ bonding and support. He decides to take the team through various collaboration workshops & pieces of training to enhance teamwork. So, he went on to Describe the Action.

He makes sure all team members have their problems resolved, and in no time the professional manages to become everyone’s most preferred or favorite manager with a great team under him. Thus, he could Explain the Result.

Benefits of cognitive flexibility

The benefits of cognitive flexibility support an individual in many ways. The more flexible your thinking, the better able you are to adapt to new situations. You also experience the benefits of improved social understanding and communication as well as personal wellness gains and enhanced creativity.

Creativity — Cognitive flexibility boosts creative thinking. It permits individuals to perceive and reorder information in new ways which enhances creativity and allows an individual to generate a diversity of ideas.

Awareness — Cognitive flexibility incorporates awareness to strengthen the ability to think about more than one item at a time. With awareness, an individual can consider multiple variables simultaneously with the skill to divide attention between two or more information channels. That would include variables like interconnected thoughts, experiences, or objects.

Adaptability — Adaptability exhibits an individual’s ability to change reactions or interactions to suit a new or varied situation. This involves shifts in thinking and attention, to respond to changing conditions or systems which is possible through cognitive flexibility.

So, the best way to understand and develop cognitive flexibility in your leadership is by doing things differently, engaging in new experiences, and interacting with diverse people thereby making your thinking much more flexible. Greater cognitive flexibility aims to give you the assurance that whatever does come, you will have the positive approach and ability to handle it with ease as well as apply the same in practice, that too very efficiently. Cognitive flexibility is recognized to be one of the most essential skills of today’s growing leaders. So, to make a mark in leadership and to ensure you can withstand any competition, developing the demanding skill of cognitive flexibility is the ideal way to go!

Bhavik Sarkhedi

2000+ Published Articles | Writer to 35+ Reputed Magazines | Author of 8 Books | Buy The Unproposed Guy, romedy novel available now https://amzn.to/3cfTNP8