Disastrous Leadership Approach, The Chameleon

(Author’s note: With today’s edition, I will begin a series of ten descriptions of what I call “disastrous leadership approaches.” A disastrous leadership style is an approach that can’t sustain its impact over the long term primarily because it’s all about what’s good for the person and not about what’s good for the organization.)

The Chameleon is the person who changes his or her opinions depending on who is in the room or who is on the conference call.

A chameleon is a lizard. It’s a lizard that changes its color in order to match its surroundings. Being a chameleon in the forest is a good thing because it allows the lizard to stay alive. Being a chameleon in an organization is a bad thing because no one knows what the person stands for.

Bob had five different bosses over a period of four years. I worked directly and indirectly with Bob for those four years. Three of his bosses were promoted, one got fired, and then he had his fifth boss.

Whenever I was alone with Bob he would say, “What do I need to do to get promoted?”

I would say, “Provide great leadership, get great results, and you will get promoted.”

Whenever he was alone with his boss, he would ask what he needed to do to get promoted and they told him the same thing I was telling him. The reason I know that is because his bosses would tell me what had happened.

Bob had a different strategy. He thought the key to getting promoted was to find out what was important to the boss of the moment and then say things that supported what the boss wanted. He would even use the same verbiage as the boss. When one boss was all about speed of delivery, Bob would say in front of his colleagues, “As you all know, I’ve always believed speed is the most important thing.” When the next boss wanted great customer service, Bob said, “As you all know, I’ve always said the most important thing we can do every day is to meet the needs of our customers no matter how long it takes.”

Bob’s fellow employees would stop me in the hallway and say, “Who is this guy? Six months ago he said something totally different than what he said today. I don’t get it.”

Over the next 10 years Bob never did get promoted. He finally took a lateral move to a different part of the company. Bob worked hard and he did deliver very good results, but the reason he never got promoted is because no one knew what he stood for. He had no leadership platform that people could trust. Inconsistency as a leader causes people to lose trust in you because they don’t know what you are going to stand for tomorrow.

Two Questions to Avoid The Chameleon Approach to Leadership

1. What are five things that you believe that you are not going to change no matter who is in the room?

2. How can you consistently demonstrate those beliefs so that other people know what you stand for?

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