Do You Practice Chameleon Leadership?

What is Chameleon Leadership?


Calvin Bushor

2 years ago | 3 min read

Have you ever seen a chameleon in real life? They’re incredible! Chameleons are able to transform their skin color at-will using skin crystals.

While most of you probably already knew this, I bet you don’t know the primary reason why they change their color. It’s to hide from predators and don’t get eaten, right? Wrong! Chameleons primarily use this rainbow-like superpower for temperature regulation and communication!

When it’s hot, a chameleon will change its color to something lighter to reflect the sun's rays and to cool itself down. On the other hand, when a chameleon needs to warm up, it transforms itself to have a darker complexion.

Communication is another primary function of a chameleon's color-changing ability. Females will visually indicate their desire to mate by showing off some hot yellow spots. She’ll then change her spots to something darker to tell interested males that they better keep walking.

Males do the same thing by showing their intentions and feelings through their skin. When competing with another male, they will tell the other chameleon to back-off with a pale complexion and displaying many spots on their bodies. Some might try something different and wear a brighter, blue, and green version while modifying where on their bodies it’s displayed.

As leaders, do we practice chameleon leadership? Do we adjust our “crystals” so that we can communicate more effectively with our teams? Do we modify our approach, softening it, or energizing it based on our mental temperature?

What is Chameleon Leadership?

Chameleon leadership is when we change ourselves, our communication, and our approach to the situation or person, so that we can influence specific behaviors or outcomes. If we have someone on our team who responds better to data and objective facts, then we should leverage information and support what we are saying, with clear examples.

If we have someone on our team who responds better to emotion, passion, and excitement, we need to express ourselves accordingly. If we have someone who likes to understand the problem we are solving before anything else, we need to adjust our approach to lead with the problem.

Chameleon leadership is about meeting people on your team where they are instead of expecting your team to come to you. I’ve recently heard someone that I mentor say, “They don’t understand what I am trying to convey and it’s because they don’t communicate like me.” I took this teaching opportunity to help this person understand that expecting people to always come to where you are when communicating is an unfair and unrealistic expectation.

When you have the realization that people are not hearing you because of your approach, instead of getting them to understand and work as you, like the chameleon, use your crystals to change your skin or the way you communicate.

Change it to fit the way their brain works. Give them more data. Present in a more energized way. Offer the problem before the grand vision. To be a better leader, we need to change what we say and how we say it based on who on our team we are speaking with. We do this so that we can give our team what they need, not what we need.

Let’s put it to practice

I have a team member on my team who is very analytical. They appreciate facts and showing your work as to why we may or may not do something. I am the furthest thing from an analytical person. I am a dreamer. I often lean on instinct over numbers.

When I am in situations with this team member, I know that I need to present information in a more structured and detailed way. I need to invest time and energy into conveying the “why” with supporting information, specifically the math behind the decision.

If I didn’t do this leg-work, this person would not grasp why we are making a decision. They would become frustrated if I expected them to just go with their guts like I am more comfortable with. I can connect with my team and have much more effective communication when I practice chameleon leadership by meeting them where they are.

Similar to how a Chameleon changes their color to manage their body temperature, the same goes for modifying your approach to change your leadership temperature. Meaning, are you coming in hot? Are you timid? Are you approaching something too aggressively or are you too soft? Chameleon leadership is knowing how to be intentional about managing your temperature, or your tone, voice, and body language.

This same team member above does not respond well to an aggressive and high-energy delivery. I need to maintain a steady tone and keep my composure in check. If I expect this person to adjust to my style, I should also expect that they won’t respond as well as if I adjusted to a style they prefer.

Change Your Crystals, Practice Chameleon Leadership

Chameleons transform themselves to manage their body temperature and to communicate more effectively. As leaders, we need to transform our words, tone, and body language for our teams so that we can improve our communication and ensure we maintain the right temperature.


Created by

Calvin Bushor

Technologist, leader, writer, and I created to help new tech leaders be better leaders and build awesome dev teams! #LeadershipLife







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