The Chameleon: The Art Of Adaptive Leadership (Part 1).

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This article for goldfish:

  • Like a Chameleon, the true leader shows different colours depending on the room (s)he’s in, without compromising authenticity.
  • Your leadership style should adapt based on the seniority of the individual you’re dealing with: Direct, Coach, Support or Delegate.
  • Educate and guide your team members to the next stage of their development.

This article for humans:

As a leader your most important responsibility is to get everyone in the team aligned and empowered to achieve a common goal, while creating a strong sense of community within the team.

Strong teams are diverse in both personality and skill set. If you are lucky enough to work with a team that has both, it stops making sense to use the same leadership style for each individual. A true leader treats everyone fair, but not equal. Like a Chameleon, the true leader shows different colours depending on the room (s)he’s in, without compromising authenticity.

Make no mistake. Showing different colours depending on which room you are in, is not about being two-faced. Be sincere and stay true to yourself. Showing different colours is about offering your team members the right kind of support, at the exact moment it’s most needed.

Great leaders adapt themselves based on the role within the organization, seniority and personality type of the people they’re addressing.

In this article (part 1) we’ll discuss adaptive leadership style based on the seniority of the person you are dealing with. Part 2 will go more in-depth on how to communicate effectively based on the personality type of the person you are addressing.

Adapting your leadership style based on the seniority level of the individual

Lead the independent senior like (s)he’s a dependent junior, and you’re capping his/her potential. Eventually this will drive him/her mad. Lead the dependent junior like (s)he’s an independent senior and you’ll either get not much at all, or an uncontrolled wrecking ball – depending on their level of enthusiasm.

To adapt my leadership style to the level of seniority of the individual, I like to use a model similar to ‘Situational Leadership II’, which was created by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. In this model each individual is categorized into four stages of development, being matched up with four separate leadership styles.

Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard’s ‘Situational Leadership II’ model.

Stage 1: Directing.

The most junior members of your team will need a strong compass and a lot of attention. A junior team member needs to be given work constantly. The tasks of a junior team member ideally get monitored, in order to supply continuous feedback.

As a leader you simply tell them what to work on (solution) and why (the problem it solves). Spend time on education, or be forced to spend time on correcting whatever they’re working on. 

One of the common pitfalls leading junior specialists is not explaining why they’re working on a task. This will slow down personal growth and lower motivation.

Stage 2: Coaching.

Medior members of your team are more capable to learn themselves and need less attention, but still need a strong compass. Often, a medior team member comes up with tasks themselves, but also needs to be given work. The tasks of a medior team member need to be monitored.

As a leader you explain the why (the problem) and what we should do next (solution). You can explain more in-depth how you came to this solution.

Stage 3: Supporting.

Senior members of your team are capable, but sometimes need help getting direction and support on decision making. The work of a senior team member occasionally needs to be checked, but it’s often best to keep these checks invisible when things are going well.

As a leader you explain the problem, and let them come back with a solution. Then ask questions to understand their solution better and give feedback.

Stage 4: Delegating.

The experts of your team are capable and you can trust them to make the right decisions. Generally you wouldn’t check the work of experts. Instead you’ll judge them on how their work has an impact on the results.

As a leader you simply present them the problem (e.g. we need to hit this target) and hold them accountable for the outcome of their solution.

Trust is the foundation of leadership and the only way to uncap the potential of your team. Build trust by using the right kind of leadership for the right kind of individual.

Guiding your team members towards the next stage

Besides adjusting your leadership style based on the seniority of the individual, it’s important to guide your team members to the next stage of their development. As a leader you show the path, but they’ll have to walk it themselves.

Education is an important factor to increase the competence of your team members. In addition to education, it’s important to get your team members to a higher level of confidence and independence when it comes to decision making.

Consider the following questions for the same problem:

  • “I noticed [problem X]. What should I do?” (stage 1 behaviour)
  • “I noticed [problem X]. Should I go for [solution A] or [solution B]?” (stage 2 behaviour)
  • “I noticed [problem X]. I think we should [solution A]. What do you think?” (stage 3 behaviour)
  • “I noticed [problem X]. I solved it by [solution A] and these were the results.” (stage 4 behaviour)

If I think a stage 2 team member is competent enough to proceed to stage 3, this is where I’ll try to guide them. My answer to the following question…

“I noticed [problem X]. Should I go for [solution A] or [solution B]?” (stage 2 question)

… would be: “What would you do if you were in my position?”

This way I am trying to enforce that team member to come back with a stage 3 question:

“I think we should [solution A]. What do you think?”

Doing this consistently, should eventually give that team member the confidence to proceed to the next stage of their development.

Be a Chameleon

Change colour depending on who you’re talking to. Be a Chameleon, but at the same time make sure to be sincere, showing your true colours.

Are you using the right leadership style for each individual to make your team flourish?

In part 2 we’ll explore how you can get your message across more effectively, by changing your way of communicating based on the personality type of the person you are addressing.

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About the author

Wesley van der Hoop

Living in The Bahamas, I get excited about digital marketing, writing, traveling, surfing, learning new things, and above all - penguins.

About Wisdom for Goldfish
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