Red desert sand

The benefits of being a shapeshifter

Adapting your leadership style to today’s workplace

4 minute read
Red desert sand

It is not just fashion or music that has moved with the times over the decades, but leadership within organisations as well.

From the authoritative and demanding leaders of the mid-1990s to the more transformative leaders we see in the workplace today, there has been a marked shift in how executives present themselves to their employees and the wider organisation.

In today’s workplaces, a leader has to be agile to ensure they are leading from the front, which can take on many different forms – much like a shapeshifter.

Former Anglicare WA Chief Executive Officer Ian Carter said the term ‘shapeshifter’ in the leadership world was related to leadership skills formed in the past.

“A shapeshifter leader is someone who can create and maintain changing circumstances both inside and outside an organisation,” he said.

“It is also someone who can lead by being capable of expressing and creating new worlds out of things that are happening.

“We are seeing organisations who know they have to be capable of moving, changing and adapting quickly, and if the leadership team isn’t capable of doing that, it can spell disaster for an organisation.”

Are traditional leadership skills still valued?

Western Australian Council of Social Service (WACOSS) Chief Executive Officer Louise Giolitto said while leadership skills passed down over the generations were still relevant in the workplace, they had been moulded to suit modern-day employees.

“People have had to be innovative and think strategically – good leaders have always had those skills, and this is still true today,” she said.

“Good leaders need to have a gravitas and a particular presence about them, which attracts people and makes them want to believe in and trust the leaders to move forward.

“They are also often quite charismatic and work with integrity – qualities which have been vital throughout history.”

Mr Carter said with modern workplaces vastly differing from those 50 years ago, leaders of the past would be shaking their heads at typical organisation practices today.

“However, the key elements still around are a leader needs to understand what their business is, its vision and what it is trying to achieve, plus core values and strategic objectives,” he said.

“When you understand what the organisation is being driven by, the leadership team needs to both know what is happening externally in the marketplace, as well as within their organisation.

“The old days of wearing a tie, physically turning up to work in the office, having a boss telling you what to do and being measured by completing several set tasks during the day have passed.

“We are living in a very different world now, and there is a need for flexibility and listening to people to provide a workplace younger members feel they can connect with and will be heard by.”

Being a flexible leader

Ms Giolitto said there were numerous workplace benefits resulting from leaders being more flexible.

“Productivity increases a great deal and the organisation will receive better results or outcomes,” she said.

“For employees, there is much bigger growth in their own learning – it gives them a greater deal of satisfaction they are part of a process or they can have influence, though not in every decision, and their work becomes a lot more rewarding.”

Ms Giolitto said leadership and the type of leader you were was often situational, relying on external or internal factors.

“In the middle of a crisis – for example, a pandemic – you must have an authoritative and delegative style of leadership, as the workplace needs someone to take charge of the situation,” she said.

“You may have to change your leadership methods or the type of leader you are, depending on the situation you’re currently in.”

Mr Carter said in today’s workplaces, both leaders and their team members needed to know what was expected of them and how they would contribute to the organisation.

“Leaders need to be flexible, responsive and communicative with their team,” he said.

“As the most critical elements for any organisation, the staff need to trust and know their leader.”

How the new generation is changing leadership

Mr Carter said leaders should be aware the new generations joining the workforce would have their eyes out for other challenges and opportunities, rather than sticking to a single occupation for a long period of time.

“Younger workers will also look for an organisation where their values and beliefs are matched with themselves,” he said.

“They like new ideas and ways – they don’t want to be doing just the same old thing the same old way.

“An organisation will get cut off at the knees if it tries and stays the same, as the younger generation will move elsewhere.”

Ms Giolitto said growing leadership trends within the workplace were benefiting from diversity in leadership roles.

“We are seeing more women step up into leadership roles, even in the community service sector,” she said.

“Another thing I think is coming is shared leadership for the work-life balance, but more importantly, for productivity.

“I’m hoping we will see the roles of the chief executive officer or senior management can be a job-share situation.”