Evolution in Leadership

Posted on: January 18, 2022

Last week, the Starbucks on the North Shore moved to a new building at 12th and Tranquille. It is a total move of 1 kilometer. The drive takes exactly 4 minutes if you don’t get stopped at the light. Yet, I heard numerous people say: “I’m not driving all the way over there!”

This statement reflects a basic human evolutionary flaw: we love our routines. Millennia ago, we were nomads, migrating toward the conditions that provided the greatest possibility of survival. Once we located a desirable area, weather conditions, food supply and social groupings, we settled in that area. Its how the world was populated. A cynic might say, we are lazy, as a species.

From a leadership lens, this desire to settle down (do the same thing the same way because its comfortable) can, over time, lead to the erosion of your leadership impact.

To refresh, leadership is defined as follows:

Leadership, at whatever level it takes place, is always about creating and maintaining a positive and trusting partnership with others, in order to develop and/or maintain a high degree of personal influence, which can create or effect positive outcomes.

In classes a few years ago, I used to perform a short version of my Wheel Leadership Assessment to give participants an understanding of their core approach to activities, others, and themselves. In most situations, a strong single lens of leadership would emerge. However, occasionally, we would get a leader whose results were less than clear, crossing multiple quadrants of the wheel. For the leaders whose results were clear, they assumed those who crossed lines were “less clear” on their leadership. In fact, the opposite is true. Leaders whose style crossed multiple lines were often the ones who were skilled at intuitively adapting to situations, shifting to understand the needs of the audience, or changing approaches to convince others about the voracity of their ideas.

They were/are what I call Evolutionary Leaders. They are highly adaptive to the situation, pivot their skill sets as required, and work to maximize the leadership outcomes in a situation.

This concept of evolutionary leadership has existed since leadership was first defined as a skill set. When we define a style by using a skill tool such as MBTI, DISC or others, what we are actually measuring is a “point in time.” In this exact moment, with these people (in the room with you), based on your professional network, and attributing your daily stressors “this is who you are.” This is limited to that exact moment. It can be argued that the moment you complete the assessment questionnaire, you change. You go from analytical to explorative, from potentially stressed to relaxed… the factors surrounding you change.  

The short lesson here is that, hopefully, we all evolve in our leadership.

Great leaders are always aware of their impacts, always asking critical questions such as:

  • Am I creating a pathway for others to follow?
  • Am I leading with integrity and character?
  • Have I learned, and am I honest about the lessons I’ve learned?
  • Would another person be inspired to action because I led the way?

As we head into another election cycle in the coming months, I challenge you to look for signs of evolution in our civic leadership candidates.

  • Who has started, with a thoughtful position on an issue and has evolved to become more thoughtful, over time?
  • Who has exhibited an ability to build relationships, while still taking a stance on issues?
  • Who is taking the time to educate, not react?

Effective leadership is an ever-evolving challenge, and as voters, it is our responsibility to reflect on who can best represent our needs and wants based on what is happening today, in our society.

To circle back to my opening thought about Starbucks, I hope there are candidates who are willing to go that extra distance, to take the slightly longer journey to the best outcome, to break out of their routines, and find innovative and responsive ways to tell us how they will be evolutionary leaders.