Susy Roberts, 6th November 2017
The ability to adapt is an inherent characteristic in all successful leaders, and it’s not just about recognising their own areas for improvement and acting on them.
I work with the Southern European Vice President of a global retailer, and he’s the most ambitious person I’ve ever coached. He’s incredibly driven, and likes to be the best at everything he does. But he expected everybody else to be as committed and driven as he was, and just didn’t understand why others didn’t work at the same pace. It was really holding back his success.
Once he recognised this shortcoming, he focused on what he needed to do differently in terms of collaborative leadership: listening to people, coaching them and supporting them. He listened to what other people needed from him and gave it to them. He was willing to adapt. Now, every single member of his team tells me what an amazing boss he is, and he’s developed them to be the most successful team in the organisation. He never lost his focus on achievement and results but how he went about it was very different.
The ability to adapt is an inherent characteristic in all successful leaders, and it’s not just about recognising their own areas for improvement and acting on them. There’s also an incredibly important cultural element to leadership – those who excel are acutely aware of the decision-making styles and the approach to authority in the culture and country within which they’re working.
Unlike the leopard that never changes its spots, the best leaders are chameleons – they observe their surroundings, and they blend in. They make themselves conspicuous by their success, not by their inability to observe the customs and management styles of their environs.
A good leader will adapt their approach according to who they’re dealing with. In this particular territory, does the boss always have to make decisions, or is it more collaborative? What are the cultural norms that must be adhered to? A good leader will always do their homework about the people they’re dealing with and adapt to their style, whether it’s a different country, a new sector or a politically-sensitive arena.
Leadership is about how you inspire, motivate and drive – it’s a way of behaving. I advise the leaders I coach to spend a month learning about how the business operates before they start making changes. But, unlike management, they don’t need to control output or solve problems within any particular field.
What they do need is a really good understanding of the culture of the organisation, and to be prepared to adapt their style accordingly. If they can’t do that, they’re not a leader.
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