Chameleon Leadership – Adapting to Change

Authors of a new book on leadership, Phil Higson and Anthony Sturgess (pictured) both have strong connections with Liverpool and the north-west region.

Anthony Sturgess

Phil has over 30 years’ experience as a manager and management educator, in small and large organizations in both the private and public sectors. Currently a senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, Phil continues to teach, examine, consult and write on various subjects, including strategy, marketing, services management, tourism, and events management.

Anthony is an engaging and thought-provoking speaker, author and leadership educator. He has designed and delivered management, leadership and change programmes, with numerous organisations, including Liverpool City Council and the Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust. After setting up his own management consultancy business, Apex Leadership, Anthony has recently returned to university life at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School to further his interest in teaching and researching leadership.

We have an exclusive extract from their new book Uncommon Leadership – How to Build Competitive Advantage by Thinking Differently on Chameleon Leadership and Adapting to Change:

In an increasingly competitive environment, change is an inevitable and intrinsic part of organisational life. But have you ever thought about how your role in helping to lead change in your organisation may need to change too? Change may be constant but it is not often the same – different situations require different approaches to change. Which means we may also need to change the way we lead it, rather like a chameleon.

Why chameleons? Because chameleons survive and thrive through their highly developed ability to change colour according to their environment, or more pointedly, through their ability to adapt. Or in the famous words of naturalist, Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

In actual fact, Darwin’s famous quotation qualifies the common understanding of the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’. Darwin borrowed this phrase from economist Herbert Spencer, who interpreted Darwin’s ideas on natural selection to mean only the fittest survive. Although Darwin himself later used the phrase in his own writing, what he actually meant was that it is those best ‘fitted’ to their environment who are most likely to survive. Like chameleons!

So chameleon leadership means understanding three things. Firstly that organisations don’t exist in a vacuum – they are intricately connected to an outside world with its complex, constantly changing landscape. Secondly, that no single style of leadership is likely to succeed in every single circumstance or context. Leadership styles need to be adapted to suit changing circumstances and contexts. Thirdly, that the ability to adapt assumes leaders first recognise what needs to change and why. And that’s not easy!

The trick for leaders is to see changes, or the need for change, before others do. This is a form of sense-making which we call ‘seeing the sense before it becomes common sense’. Sense making requires leaders to continually scan and search their environment for changes. Seeing what is happening, what’s different, changing patterns, coming trends, and so on. But it also means using what they find to help their organisations adapt before their competitors, to gain that critical competitive advantage.

Such a view of leadership recognises the need to be responsive, adaptive and “fleet-of-foot”. This isn’t the same as leading in a wishy-washy manner, or as a leopard, constantly changing one’s spots. It means developing leaders with the ability to scan, assess, adapt, survive and thrive, just like a chameleon. Leaders who can see the sense before it becomes common, then manage changes that are appropriate to the nature, characteristics and context of the situation in order to achieve successful outcomes.

Uncommon Leadership – How to Build Competitive Advantage by Thinking Differently by Phil Higson and Anthony Sturgess, is published by Kogan Page, priced £19.99. For further information including helpful tools and resources see

“I’ve read lots of management books; however this book was different. I couldn’t put it down!” – Sarah Parr, Director of SIA Service and Customer Access Service, Liverpool Direct Limited.

You might also like More from author

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Username field is empty.