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  • Writer's pictureAllison Shaw

3 Tips for being an adaptable leader

"Leadership is the ability to guide others without force into a direction or decision that leaves them still feeling empowered and accomplished."

~ Lisa Cash Hanson

I love this quote, and I think it truly is the best definition of leadership. Sounds simple when you read it, right? Guide but don’t the team feel empowered. Okay, sounds’s not rocket science. Got it.

But how are we really going to make this happen? What will we say? How will we say it? How will we know when we are giving too much guidance? How do we know if our instincts are right? Does the same approach work for everyone on the team? How will we know how to operate differently for different people? 

Figuring out how to guide, coach and lead your team, and then actually doing it, now seems pretty complex.

Fortunately, I have three tips to simplify the whole process of leading and managing your employees.

#1. Know Yourself: Know your natural leadership style. If your organization uses a behavioral assessment like The Predictive Index (PI), sit down with the expert or sponsor at your organization to understand your strengths, challenges and areas where you may need to adjust your style to be an effective leader.  

For example, if you have a strong drive for dominance or to influence others, you will have a more “telling” or directive style in managing others. Therefore, in order to “guide others without force,” you would want to adopt a coaching style - listening and asking questions to enable your team members to lead themselves to the right answer. For example, instead of “You still need to do an X, Y and Z analyses in order to capture a full picture of the data”, try “What do you think the data would tell us if you looked at it in a different way? How might we gather a more balanced view?” This then gives the employee the opportunity to consider the next steps, figure it out for themselves, leaving them with a sense of accomplishment and empowerment.

#2: Know your team: Each person is just as unique as the fingerprints we bear. Understand what drives your employees and what they need in the workplace to be successful. Again, if your organization uses a behavioral assessment, review that data for your direct reports to understand their individual drives and needs.

You may find that your own drives are quite different from those of your team members. Perhaps you have a low drive for stability, meaning that you prefer multiple priorities, don’t mind interruptions, and work at a faster than average pace. If one of your direct reports has a high drive for stability, they work methodically, can focus for long periods, but may find interruptions frustrating. This is just one example of how two people who work together may be driven differently and therefore have very different needs and styles. You may find a wide variety of behavioral traits among your team. As a leader, it is important for you to understand this so that you can then do #3.

#3: Give your team members what they need: As a manager, your needs are secondary to what your employees need in the workplace. Read that again. Yup. You are responsible for empowering your team to success. You are responsible to coach and guide, lead and manage - not according to your preferences, but in a way, that gives each team member what they individually need to perform at their best. The good news is, if you’ve followed tip #2, you’re halfway there. 

When educating yourself about your employees’ behavioral profiles, take extra time to understand the drives that are different from yours - this is where you will need to make the biggest adjustment versus your natural inclinations.  

Let’s look at an example. Barbara is the manager of a department. She has a high drive for extraversion, and a lower drive for formality, meaning that she seeks social interaction as part of her job, is naturally persuasive, has an informal communication style, and she makes decisions through collaboration and consensus. In an effort to build rapport with the team, she walks around the department, tries to engage in small talk, asking about their weekends, etc. She also often calls impromptu, and informal team meetings to talk through challenges or changes. She sincerely wants to hear what the team thinks, but they aren’t opening up in these meetings, except for the occasional time that an employee emails her an idea hours afterwards. Barbara finds this frustrating and wishes the employee had mentioned it at the time - she genuinely wants to be able to collaborate with everyone.

Barbara’s team members have low extraversion, and high formality, which means they are not driven to socialize at work and are typically “heads down” in what they are working on. They prefer to think through information before weighing in, and need to have facts and details to inform their decision-making.

See the problem here? By walking around the department, Barbara is interrupting the team from their “heads down” work. They also aren’t as interested in small talk as she is, and may find this an unnecessary interruption that slows down their productivity. By calling unscheduled meetings, she is not giving them time to think through the topic at hand, nor any facts or information to consider to help them formulate their viewpoints.  

How could Barbara adapt her style so that the employees are more comfortable and productive? How could she empower them to share their ideas and collaborate more freely during the team meetings?  

Firstly, Barbara should spend less time chatting with employees at their desks - a simple “good morning” to the team would suffice. To develop rapport with each employee, she should schedule one-on-one meetings, and give them an understanding of what she wants to discuss (a little bit of small talk here is fine). This allows the employee not to be interrupted while they are concentrating on their work. Notice that Barbara should put her preferences aside in order to meet the teams’ needs and allow them to work productively without interruption.

As for the team meetings, Barbara should follow a similar approach. She should schedule the meetings and send a detailed agenda in advance, with any facts she has gathered on the topic as well what she would like the team to think about and be prepared to share. This will allow the team members to review the information, formulate their thoughts and come prepared to discuss. Even in this situation, some folks with lower extraversion will be hesitant to insert themselves into the conversation, so Barbara should set the expectation ahead of time that everyone will have a chance to speak, and then structure the meeting to ensure this happens. 

This approach will help the employees feel more comfortable and ready to engage in a collaborative discussion, and will help Barbara get what she wants - feedback and input from her team. Once again, Barbara needs to set aside her own style and adopt a formal approach to these meetings, giving the team what they need, and thereby making the meetings more productive.

If you want to learn more about behavioral analytics and how to apply its many insights to your leadership style, contact me at for a free assessment.

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