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  • Writer's pictureStefano Calvetti

The Transformative Power of Adaptable Leadership

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

Have you ever tried to google “leadership styles”? If you have done it, I am sure you have encountered an uncountable number of research, studies, and websites listing many ways you can lead. Maybe, this is how you landed on this post.

image of shelves with busts of leaders of the Roman era
Different leaders - different styles

You can also ask some AI to make the list for you. Here’s what I’ve got from ChatGPT:

Autocratic or Authoritarian Leadership: Decision-making is centralized, and team members have little to no input. This style is effective for quick decisions but can stifle creativity and team engagement.

Democratic or Participative Leadership: Leaders actively involve team members in the decision-making process. This fosters a sense of ownership and is often good for morale but can be time-consuming.

Transformational Leadership: Leaders inspire and motivate through a shared vision and enthusiasm. This style is effective for driving organizational change but requires a high level of charisma and energy.

Transactional Leadership: Leaders use rewards and punishments to motivate team members. While effective for achieving short-term tasks, this style can be demotivating over the long term.

Laissez-faire or Delegative Leadership: Leaders adopt a hands-off approach, allowing team members to make most of the decisions. Effective when team members are highly skilled but can lead to a lack of direction.

Charismatic Leadership: Leaders inspire enthusiasm and commitment through their personality and actions. Effective for motivating teams, but there's a risk of the organization struggling when the leader moves on.

Servant Leadership: Leaders prioritize the needs and growth of their team over organizational goals. Effective for team morale and long-term success but can be challenging to implement in highly hierarchical settings.

Cross-cultural Leadership: Leaders focus on bridging cultural gaps, respecting diversity, and being inclusive. Effective in diverse teams but requires a high degree of cultural intelligence.

Visionary Leadership: Leaders guide the team toward a long-term vision, leaving day-to-day tasks to team members. Effective for strategic direction but may lack focus on immediate challenges.

Bureaucratic Leadership: Leaders adhere to organizational rules, policies, and procedures. It is effective in regulated environments but can stifle innovation and responsiveness.

Coaching Leadership: Leaders focus on the personal and professional growth of their team members, often acting as mentors. Effective for employee development but may not be suited for fast-paced decision-making.

Strategic Leadership: Leaders blend strategic planning with people management. Effective for achieving long-term organizational goals but requires the ability to balance various interests.

Pace-setting Leadership: Leaders set high-performance standards and exemplify these standards themselves. Effective for quick results but can lead to team burnout if not managed carefully.

If you want to keep digging, you’ll find even more styles and definitions.

The aim of this post is not to make a list of all the leadership styles but to advocate for a quality effective leaders should have: ADAPTABILITY.

Before we get there, let’s define what is a leadership style. It refers to how you would approach guiding, motivating, and managing individuals or groups in an organizational setting, encapsulating strategies, methods, and behavior patterns you can employ to achieve objectives, foster team cohesion, and handle challenges.

Your leadership style can be influenced by many things, like personality, experience, and organizational culture in which you operate.

Is it essential to learn what style yours is?

The answer to this question is, well, yes and no.

Yes, because you can understand if the way you are leading is the most appropriate for the organization you work for, for the team you work with, and for the mission you must accomplish. It’s like taking a step back and observing yourself in action. It can be done in many ways, like self-reflection, or asking for feedback. The important thing is to keep an open mind, especially if you have asked for feedback. Once you have a better idea of the leadership style you are adopting, you can assess if you are moving in the right direction or if you need to adjust something.

No, because human behaviors hardly follow stereotypes or precise definitions. Especially if you are a stickler, you can find yourself trying to perfect your leadership style because you think is the most suitable at that moment and you lose track of the important things at hand: your team and the mission. The moment you become overly introspective or analytical about your style, you can reach the "analysis paralysis" where too much time is spent considering how to lead rather than leading. This can slow down decision-making processes and potentially result in missed opportunities.

Most importantly, perfecting your style can be counterproductive because I have learned how crucial is to adapt to the situation. It means being able to change leadership with agility.

Let’s make a few examples. I am sure you know someone who is an extraordinarily strong leader at work but when they are off duty, they don’t know how to take control of a situation or how to be assertive toward people who are not co-workers. This is very typical in a military environment, where the uniform and the insignia give some authority “at first glance”. High-ranking officials like generals or admirals, for example, are used to taking the lead in any working environment a no one will question their role. But when they hang their uniform and go home, it’s all different. There is no shining rank to help them, and they might lack the skills to be as effective in leading as they could be at work.

That’s because, as I wrote, leadership style can be influenced by many factors: personality, experience, stress level, trust, team members, team cohesion, proficiency of everyone, organizational culture, priorities, emergencies… the list is quite long.

What does this mean?

It means that ADAPTABILITY is the key element for leaders. No leadership style is the best because all of them are, in their peculiar situation.

Picture of Reed Hastings, CEO @ Netflix, standing in front of NETFLIX logo
Reed Hasting, CEO of Netflix, is a great example of adaptive leadership

Here’s why adapting your leadership style is crucial:

  • As we are living in a dynamic environment constantly influenced by factors like technology, competition, and market conditions, organizations face new and sometimes unexpected challenges. I am sure that the Gordian knot on remote working constitutes a good example.

  • Modern workplaces are increasingly diverse, not just in terms of ethnicity and gender, but also in terms of skills, perspectives, experiences, and generations. Therefore, leaders need to be able to tap into the strengths of everyone to have an effective and cohesive team.

  • Every problem is unique in terms of resources available (including time), initial conditions, and desired outcomes. To solve the problem efficiently, leaders can pivot and approach the issue in several ways, depending on what is most suitable.

  • Adaptable leaders are more open to innovative ideas and approaches, which can be vital for innovation and growth. They often encourage a culture of experimentation and learning, essential for any organization that aims to innovate and stay competitive.

  • Different organizations have distinct cultures and objectives. This would consistently impact the leadership style needed in that particular organization. And, by the way, everything changes, even the organizational cultures.

  • The level of trust and emotional intelligence among team members is one of the elements that can influence the leadership style since they can create an environment ripe for open dialogue and feedback.

Where to start?

Developing the skill of adaptability is easy to say, and hard to do. I know.

The starting point is always self-awareness. Take time to assess your strengths, weaknesses, habits, motivations, blind spots, and emotional triggers. Self-assessment tools, personality tests, and even 360-degree feedback can offer valuable insights. From there, you'll have a foundational understanding of your go-to leadership styles and tactics, as well as the situations where they're most effective. If you are interested, I offer Enneagram analysis among my services.

Next, focus on expanding your emotional intelligence. Learn to read the room, to understand the unspoken needs and sentiments of your team. Being emotionally intelligent will help you become more attuned to when a shift in leadership style might be beneficial. It goes beyond recognizing your own emotions. In fact, it also includes interpreting and responding to the emotions of others. Regularly engaging in active listening and empathic responses can help you build this skill set.

After that, open the channels for candid feedback. If you've built a high-trust environment, this will be easier to accomplish. Team members are more likely to share honest observations and constructive criticism when they believe their input is valued and won't result in negative repercussions. This feedback will serve as a real-world gauge for assessing the effectiveness of your adaptive leadership strategies.

It would be best if you also exercised flexibility in decision-making. Get comfortable with ambiguity and learn to make decisions even when you don't have all the information you'd like. Adaptability often requires quick thinking and the ability to act under uncertain conditions. You can practice this by putting yourself in new or uncomfortable situations where you must rely on your judgment rather than established procedures.

Finally, keep an open mind and continue to learn. Adapting leadership style also means knowing what approach you can use in a determined situation. Understand their pros and cons and what are the situation in which they are most effective. The business landscape is ever-changing, as are the people you'll lead. Constant learning and development are not simply good for you but are also exemplary behaviors that encourage your team to do the same. Read widely, seek diverse perspectives, and don't shy away from challenges that force you to stretch your abilities.

If you wish to embark on a journey to become a more adaptable leader, contact me. I will be glad to support you.

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