Which Costume To Wear???

Great leaders are able to adjust their style and presence to the realities of the situation.  This important competency is mistakenly looked down upon by some as inauthentic and disingenuous.  However, there is an important distinction between the values and beliefs that a leader embodies and the style/presence that they command in different situations.

Values and beliefs define the core boundaries of a leader and are what followers look for to understand the leader’s vision, ethics, and boundaries.  For example, Sam Walton’s core beliefs were:

  1. Respect for the individual
  2. Service to customers
  3. Striving for excellence

Sam’s actions spoke volumes.  He treated his employees as partners, and empowered them to serve the customers.  He believed in making his employees owners through compensation programs much earlier than most other companies.

Leadership style and presence, on the other hand, are the manners in which a leader communicates and influences his followers.  Since the leader is faced with a variety of scenarios, situations, and constituencies, he must be able to adjust his presence and style.

A great example comes from the Research and Development (R&D) arena.  Early on, bench scientists and R&D specialists are trained and evaluated based on standards of accuracy and fact-based communication.  At this stage in their career, the R&D colleague often selects a low-key approach that favors analytics, sound logic, and a fact based/no-nonsense and non-emotional delivery.  In addition, for the emerging leader in R&D, it is important to respect hierarchy and seniority, as there are academic credentials, industry standing/reputations, and organizational power that are disproportionately assigned to the more senior R&D leaders.  However, as the R&D specialist makes the career turn to general management where they must manage and influence multiple disciplines and leaders, they are often ill prepared for the more extraverted communication style.  Many emerging leaders will confide to their coach that they feel ill at ease speaking up at senior level meetings without having all of the facts to back up their statements.  They go on to say that they are bewildered at the ease with which their colleagues, in areas such as sales and marketing, can state and stand strongly and confidently behind positions that are, in their view, still evolving and not completely supported by data.  They share their frustration at not speaking enough, not having the right level of visibility, and not being noticed for their contributions as leaders in the organization.  They see that colleagues in R&D who are not as competent at the science catapult over them to more senior positions in R&D and the organization simply because, relative to others in R&D, they have better communication, influencing, and political skills.  At this stage in their career, many such emerging R&D leaders decide that they will engage in work that will free them of some of the self-limiting assumptions they carry regarding the importance of having 100% reliability and validity of data prior to leading, and speaking and acting in an undemonstrative and understated manner that focuses purely on facts and logic.  The transition is often challenging, but by no means undoable.  Many have been able to develop a more creative, extraverted, and emotionally appealing persona when in a C-level board meeting than when they are with their R&D colleagues in the lab.

Perhaps the most important skill that a leader needs to develop is the ability to connect with all of their followers in ways they can understand, relate, and be inspired by.  In the words of the sixth president of United States, John Quincy Adams, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”

A great article to read in this regards is Leadership That Gets Results- by Daniel Goleman- March/April 2000

Share your thoughts with the community… What has been your experience with situational leadership?  How have you or others that you know navigated the balance between authentic and situational leadership?  What are some of your observations regarding the challenges and techniques in making the change from the more consistent style of a specialist to the more versatile leadership style required of more senior enterprise leaders?


About Kaveh Naficy
Kaveh is the leader of Heidrick and Struggles executive coaching practice in North America. Kaveh focuses on working with leaders placed to make transformational and creative changes in their organizations. Kaveh has a proven record of success in harnessing the strengths of these leaders to achieve accelerated business solutions. He is able to create significant insights through reflective thinking, presence, and disciplined follow-through. Executives who have worked with Kaveh say that his strengths are his deep insights into the realities of the current and future business world, accelerated scanning of the environment and competition; creative out of the box thinking, and leveraging the collective intelligence of their teams and creating the organizational culture to support and foster the appropriate organizational design and strategies. They also point their deep trust and personal connectivity with Kaveh, his coaching approach, and style.

2 Responses to Which Costume To Wear???

  1. Pingback: The Role of R&D Leadership in Innovation Crescendo « Innovation Crescendo

  2. Pingback: Leading an Innovation Crescendo Part 4: The Art of Influence and the Emerging R&D Leader « Innovation Crescendo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: