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How mid-market bosses can be more adaptable leaders

How mid-market bosses can be more adaptable leaders

There is a real difference between leadership and management: put simply, leaders lead people, managers manage tasks. Leaders know what to do, managers simply do it. It’s rare to find someone who is both a good leader and good manager, and, at the crux of the matter, is their adaptability in leading different people.

Coming from a military background, my introduction to coaching was very different to what is often seen in the business world. One of the main differences in the military is that you’re taught leadership before you’re taught a skill or a trade. Conversely, in the civilian world, you join a firm as a lawyer, accountant or stockbroker, but you’re not required to exhibit leadership skills until well into your career. Upon graduation from the Australian Defence Force Academy at 20-21 years of age, young people in the military are often commanding a staff of 40 to 50. Many of these people can be twice their age, requiring these young people to exhibit strong leadership skills.

Businesses of the future need to wise up and change their thinking. For companies to really be progressive and excel, adopting a similar “ground-floor” approach to developing adaptable leadership strategies among key talent is vital. If you don’t have this bedrock of leadership training that you can apply to personalities of all types, you’re likely to flounder down the track.




I remember winning an entrepreneurial award on behalf of one of our businesses when, a staff member turned to me half-admiringly and commented, “You’re like a chameleon, Mark …” Maybe he was being passive-aggressive, but I chose to take it as a compliment. That comment stayed with me and, because I’m regularly in a position to mentor aspiring business leaders, I take every opportunity to encourage them to become that entrepreneurial chameleon. It’s not a euphemism for being two-faced or disingenuous. Rather, it’s about being adaptable – both in your leadership style and to the changing needs of the business. An entrepreneurial chameleon is someone who morphs to meet the emerging needs of their environment.




Like most businesses, several of our investee companies employ staff across the age spectrum from Baby Boomer to Gen Z – and, like a lot of leaders of mid-size business, it’s important that I tailor my leadership to each of these groups accordingly. This point is borne out in a recent Bankwest report – as part of their Future of Business Series – which shows that statistically, younger people are predominantly looking for leadership, mentoring, coaching and promotion prospects. Conversely, Baby Boomers seek stability and flexibility, whilst indicating a preference for higher salaries and bonuses in their performance arrangements.

This is exactly why adaptability is so important. Simply dangling carrots, kudos or uniform strategies to motivate people isn’t leadership. Fundamentally, it means tailoring your leadership style to the individual, understanding the division of your workforce and customising yourself to their needs.




Not all businesses go well. As a private equity fund manager, my portfolio has its share of challenges. But when I look at the reasons why mid-market businesses fail, it’s invariably less about product and more about failures in leadership. As someone who makes a lot of angel investments in start-up companies, I look for good teams and talent ahead of good products every day of the week.

It’s difficult to change if you’re set in your ways, but for those leaders not able to adapt their leadership strategies, two things will commonly happen. Firstly, the company will hit a glass ceiling. It won’t mature or grow and people will start leaving. Secondly, if there’s a strong board in place, they’ll recognise the issue and take steps to rectify it.

Those leaders who do learn to adapt their style to suit the growth of the company, who do accommodate the personalities and needs of their key staff, are the ones who tend to go on to develop strong businesses. The Metro Hospitality Group is an example of an organisation that has adapted its style and strategy to meet the demands of an increasingly diversified stakeholder group. It is a company that constantly adapts its strategies to retain staff and excite them about the industry, through training programs, incentive schemes and by being creative about an individual’s wants and needs. It’s a rare case of a highly adaptable organisation and a shining example to follow.

In mid-size businesses, leadership training is often seen as a luxury. But from experience I know you need to invest in your employees’ careers during the business’ growth phase. If you wait until a business inevitably plateaus, it becomes much more difficult. The earlier people learn leadership, the more adaptable their style can become.




1. Develop an active talent-management program to identify the types of people you want in your company’s culture, and get them enrolled in leadership training ASAP

2. Really understand that investment in talent and leadership is akin to (or sometimes more important than) investment in product

3. Remember the things that you disliked about your early employment experiences, and ensure the culture of your business avoids repeating such experiences

4. Recognise there are three distinct phases of company maturation – start-up, growth and maturity – and adapt your style to meet the unique needs of each phase or replace yourself as leader

5. Understand that employees from different generations are motivated by different things and adapt your employee contracts to suit


*Original Article by Mark McConnell: