Reflection Friday: Test Your Shapeshifting Skills

February 25, 2022   |   Julie Diamond

Being able to access different leadership methods and styles is a critical capacity for great leaders.

It’s what enables leaders to respond effectively to different types of people, across different kinds of contexts, and to different types of situations. However, most of us develop one-sidedly, honing the leadership style that’s most comfortable, or one we’ve been conditioned into, or what’s worked for us in the past.

This means that the way we lead serves us only in certain contexts but fails in others—a big problem for leaders that must navigate all types of situations, not just those that match a preferred style.

In this great Harvard Business Review article, the authors lay out seven key tensions that we see as shapeshifting challenges.

Join us as we reflect on these tensions and how easy—or difficult—they are to toggle between.


Tension 1: The Expert vs. the Learner

You got to where you are because of your content expertise and technical acumen; but as a leader, there are times when it’s not your expertise that’s needed. 

Instead, what might be needed is your open mind and willingness to learn from other experts—even allowing them to take the lead.

Tension 2: The Constant vs. the Adaptor

Society has long valued its leaders to be decisive and unwavering. It’s critical to take a stand and stick to it, even in the face of doubt or uncertainty. 

But in this time of rapid change and volatility, it’s also important to know when to let go, change your mind, and completely reverse the course. What’s valued in this emerging approach is adapting in response to new information.

Tension 3: The Tactician vs. the Visionary

Sometimes leaders just need to roll up their sleeves, get in the weeds and understand the operational details of their organization. This often inspires trust from your team and helps lay out well-defined plans when done in the right way. 

However, if you get too deep in the weeds, you may lose the ability to see the bigger picture—something leaders also need: a clear vision for where they want to go and a north star for their team to follow, without always needing operational clarity and a concrete roadmap. 

Tension 4: The Teller vs. the Listener

Leaders are teachers. Their teams have long counted on them to impart their knowledge and experience. 

However, when a leader becomes too didactic, they can’t fully listen to the smarts of the people around them. They also fail to coach well, telling people what to do, rather than helping them solve their own problems.

Tension 5: The Power Holder vs. Power Sharer

As a leader, you must own the power of your position. People look to you to make decisions, distribute resources and remove roadblocks.

On the flip side, overusing that power ends up disempowering people. A good leader knows when and how to empower others to take initiative and engage more actively. 

Tension 6: The Intuitionist vs. the Analyst

Leaders get strong hunches about things, based on years of experience. Following those hunches often leads to great innovations and creativity—but it can also lead to following intuitions down multiple rabbit holes with nothing to show for it. 

Great leaders can discern the validity of their instincts through the filter of data and can walk that line without getting stuck on one side or another.

Tension 7: The Perfectionist vs. the Accelerator

It’s easy to miss the moment by getting stuck in the pursuit of perfection, delaying key initiatives due to a fear of imperfection. 

It’s also easy to jump the gun and launch a product not yet ready for market, believing that doing something quickly and failing fast is more important than doing it perfectly. 

Each method comes with its own consequences, but a wise leader knows when to pump the brakes and when to give it gas. 

Reflection Questions

Understanding your natural tendencies is an important first step in navigating these tensions. 

Reflect on your own shapeshifting skills:

  • With each of these tensions, where is your comfort zone? Do you follow more traditional or emerging approaches to leadership? Why do you think you default that way?
  • Think of a time when mismanaging one or more of these tensions caused problems for your team or organization. How could you have remedied the situation?
  • Where is there room for you to be more ambidextrous so you can move between the two approaches as the context requires? 

The nuances of leadership are ever-evolving and in a survival of the fittest, it’s the nimblest leaders that will stand the test of time.