Authentic Chameleon: The kind of leadership you need to know about!

Sounds different?

Does the title sound a little off? The moment you hear the word "chameleon", does your mind give you different kind of picture that's not fitting very well with your current leadership mindset?

I can understand and you are about to find out what is this all about and how can it enhance your leadership practice.

Let me keep this bite-sized learning crisp, valuable and actionable for you.

I have talked about what authenticity means and why is it so important in my other articles, such as "Leadership in Action - OUTACT MATTERS!".

Authenticity acts as the anchor that holds the leadership of a person in its place even when the times are challenging. The actions driven by the beliefs, values, and mindsets of leaders tell the story about their authenticity every single time. 


"Can my authenticity be a trap for me at times or hold me back?"


Authenticity 2.0 or Authentic Chameleon

Welcome to what I call "Authenticity 2.0" and many researchers and leadership experts call as being Authentic Chameleons. The term Authentic Chameleon sounds very counter-intuitive but actually it is not. 

Let's have  a quick look at the following leadership mindsets:

Common Authentic Leadership Mindset (True to Self-ers)
  • I am true to myself and this is how I do things every single time, no matter what the situation is.
  • Authenticity is about do or die by staying true to my values and beliefs.
  • Everyone around me needs to agree and adhere to my authentic ways of doing things as I believe.
  • It is everyone else's failure if they are not able to understand and act the way I expect them to be based on my authentic leadership style.
Authenticity 2.0 or an Authentic Chameleon Mindset (the Adaptive Authenticity)
  • I truly understand and operate from my core values and beliefs in accordance with the context I am in and the demand of the situation.
  • I operate with authenticity and also embrace changes and adaptive practices to navigate the complexities of my role and situations.
  • Authenticity helps me stay grounded when times are challenging and rather enhances the effectiveness of my practices that include, decision-making, managing conflicts, being more inclusive and equitable, providing physical and psychological safety to others, building strong relationships, being more collaborative, driving service excellence, etc.
Just by reading the contrasting mindsets above, you would have noticed that the ever-changing demands and challenges in today's organizations or even personal lives require all leaders to operate from the spheres of continuous adaptation and resilience. 

Think of a chameleon. It changes colors frequently which allow it to have more freedom to adapt to the surrounding environment and yet demonstrates the ability to be self. Imagine, if the chameleon fails to adapt to the changing environment - what might happen? It might be killed by a predator or a challenging situation.

Don't Get it Wrong but You Can't Just be One-thing in Leadership

Adaptation does not mean leaving your authenticity behind. It simply means building on your authenticity even further and leveraging it during the times of change or challenge. 

For example - a leader who has always been collaborative and operates from the values of respect and inclusion might come into a situation, where he/she needs to take a tough decision by him/herself and that might not reflect his/her usual expected version. However, this leader might confidently demonstrate this side as well by leveraging his/her abundant ground-work based on trusting relationships with colleagues and team members. Remember, making a tough decision on behalf of a team or representing others is also about respecting them and yourself. People who follow you, also look up to you and trust you for making effective decisions during tough times.

Another simple example? You might like wearing a suit and tie and believe that's your style and a part of who you are; it makes you feel more confident. But you might choose to be in a slightly less formal attire when dealing with a client who feels uncomfortable in a formal environment. That way, you can have more trusting, open and effective dialogue with the person. The place, time and conditions matter, and adapting and re-aligning to achieve effectiveness is about being an authentic chameleon.

It doesn't take away your authenticity about who you are but allows you to demonstrate what is required to be more effective in challenging situations. So, don't get into the authenticity-trap.

Check out the book, Why Should Anyone be Led by You by Gareth Jones and Rob Goffee to see some executive cases based on this topic. 

Expand your leadership capacity and succeed with Ledx Learning and Leadership. Read more of our bite-sized learning.


Sahil Sharma
Talent, Learning & Leadership Development Professional | Certified Leadership Coach

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