Leaders must be chameleons

It is said

“In today’s world, having a particular management or leadership style is probably not the answer.

“Leaders must be chameleons, adjusting their personal style to the individuals that they manage, in order to get the best out of each.”

The best Managers adapt their method of interaction to the needs of the people and situations for which they are responsible for.

By adopting the appropriate management style depending on the ‘employees’ ability and willingness to perform a task. It will help not hinder them in performing the task well.

For example, a new person joins your team and you’re asked to help them through the first few days. You sit them in front of a PC, show them a pile of invoices that need to be processed today, and push off to a meeting. Everyone loses because the new person feels helpless and demotivated, and you don’t get the invoices processed.

On the other hand, you’re handing over to an experienced colleague before you leave for a holiday. You’ve listed all the tasks that need to be done, and a set of detailed instructions on how to carry out each one. The work will probably get done, but not the way you expected, and your colleague despises you for treating him like an idiot.

But swap the situations and things get better. Leave detailed instructions and a checklist for the new person, and they’ll thank you for it. Give your colleague a quick chat and a few notes before you go on holiday, and everything will be fine.

The skill/will matrix was introduced by Max Landsberg in his book, The Tao of Coaching .


The skill/will matrix requires a Manager to assess the Employee’s level of skill for dealing with that situation, issue or task and also their level of will.

  1. How competent / able is a person to do something?  (their “skill”)
  2. How motivated / desirous are they to do something?   (their “will”)

The matrix works by plotting the level of the Employee’s skill against their will, either high or low, in order to determine the appropriate style of interaction for the coach to adopt:

As a result, the ‘Employee’ will be plotted on the 4 quadrants:

Direct (when both skill and will are low)

When the ‘Employee’ has low will and low skill, there is a need to develop both and to closely supervise the ‘Employee’ To achieve this as a Manager you need to help them to build the will, develop the skill and then sustain the will. This can be achieved by

  • Identify motivations so that you can tap into these
  • Develop a vision of future performance to build motivation
  • Structure tasks for quick wins helping to develop confidence
  • Develop their skills through training and the coach
  • Sustain the will through the provision of timely feedback and, where appropriate, praise.


Guide (when there is high will but low skill)

When guidance is required, the employee already has the motivation but lacks the necessary skills. To address, as Manager you can:

  • Invest time early on providing a clear conception of what they are going to achieve, and how they are going to achieve it
  • Providing opportunities for the employees to observe someone with the appropriate skills and experience
  • Set them a series of smaller tasks to build up their skills gradually
  • Answer questions and explain
  • Create a risk free environment to where they feel safe in making mistakes and can learn from
  • Relax control as progress is shown


Excite (when there is high skill but low will)

As Manager you will:

  • Have to first identify the reason for the low will. for example the task, management, style or personal factors
  • Motivate where ever possible, linking in to what makes them tick
  • Monitor performance and give frequent feedback.


Delegate (when both skill and will are high)

The role of a Manager for someone whose skill and will are both high is to:

  • Provide freedom to do the job
  • Set objective, not methods of achieving those objectives
  • Provide them with a sounding board and to develop their confidence
  • Encourage the individual to take responsibility
  • Involve them in decision making – use” tell me what you think”
  • Give more stretching tasks


So how can how you use this to develop your team ?

  1. Review who is in your team (your area of influence)
  2. Review each individual in the team and identify the person’s skill and will
  3. Plot them on the matrix identifying which of the 4 quadrants best describe them
  4. Meet with them to clarify and confirm with them your own perceptions of their skills / will and modify if necessary
  5. Discuss your intended approach and reasons with the person