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Mastering the invisible dance: Evolving your leadership with your team’s growth

By Adrian Knowles
28 February 2024 | 13 minute read
adrian knowles harcourts reb kzdjhi

Leadership, like many things in life, isn’t a static state. It’s a dynamic, fluid entity that morphs as the environment and ingredients within it change.

It’s an invisible dance where every leader must learn not just the initial, choreographed steps, but also the impromptu ones that arise as their team moves from the wobbly interplay of the unknown towards the well-practised waltz of competence.

In this era of heightened career mobility and ever-increasing specialisation, the workforce is steadily becoming a mosaic of assorted experiences and expertise. What does this mean for the modern leader? It’s not enough to have a one-size-fits-all approach; you must evolve as your team evolves. This piece is a call to redefine leadership in nuanced, adaptive terms. How do you grow with those you lead? I’ve been pondering this query for years as a CEO, and I’ve learnt that masterful leadership lies in the ability to adjust your style, without compromising effectiveness, to meet the phase and the needs of the team you lead.

The basic steps: Leading novices

Every great leader was once the new recruit, eyes wide with aspiration and trepidation. Thus, the first crucible a leader faces is not with seasoned professionals, but with novices fresh to the field. At this stage, leaders are akin to mentors, guiding and protecting their fledgling charges with a blend of patience and pedagogy. The emphasis is on micromanaging transformational growth.

Leaders of entry-level staff need to be accessible, setting clear parameters, yet providing enough latitude for them to make errors and adjustments. This is a period of formative feedback, where every how and why is an opportunity to sculpt potential. Your role is to instil procedures and best practices that will serve as enduring tools – the measures of your leadership success are the first steps your employees take independent of your direct guidance.

Engaging employees at their peak: Leading professionals

Fast forward a few years, your team members are no longer novices but seasoned professionals. Channel the switch from a mentor to a coach in your leadership style. The emphasis here shifts from providing basic building blocks to refining and challenging already existing structures. This group mandates a high level of autonomy, as they are less in need of operational direction and more in need of inspiration and strategic alignment.


Trust becomes the bedrock of your relationship with professionals. Give them the freedom to innovate, to fail even, and find their way back to success without your interference. They desire growth, and it is your role to enable it by not only facilitating the requisite resources and environment, but also by championing their work internally and externally. This is the point in the dance where the floor is yours only to occasionally join in the harmony when deviations from the songbook are tuning challenges into symphonies.

Amid veterans: Leading experts

We arrive now at the more intricate segments of the dance – leading experts and veterans. Here your role is more that of a partner rather than a director. You have the luxury of stepping back and watching the mastery of your experts play out. Your purpose is to clear the path, to remove obstacles, and to provide the bigger picture. This leadership stage is about facilitation; it’s where you set the tone and framework and trust that your experts will execute with finesse and precision.

Your engagement with these individuals must be more strategic. It’s no longer about the why or the what, but the who and the how. Your insight and mentorship must transcend the immediate task and focus on legacy – theirs, yours and the organisation’s. It’s understanding that while they may not directly need your immediate approval or guidance, they can benefit profoundly from your network, exposure and the preservation of their intellectual properties within an often-turbulent corporate heritage.

Leadership: A symphony not a solo act

Leadership, at its heart, is about orchestrating a symphony. Every violinist in your orchestra, whether they wield a bow or a baton, brings something unique to the notes they play. Your role as the conductor is to understand the instrument each team member plays, the part they play in the composition, and finally, to bring them together to create something beautiful that transcends the individual capabilities of the musicians.

Successful leadership is about having the keen awareness to shift the tone, pace and direction of the ‘orchestra’ – your team – as they evolve with experience and time. It is this understanding that separates the maestros from mere music makers. Each transition from novice to expert requires a corresponding adjustment in your leadership approach. Those who intuitively perform this dance of adaptation are the leaders who leave indelible marks on both the professional and personal lives of the teams they have led.

The endless dance of leadership evolution

To conclude, think of your leadership as an endless dance, where the only constant is change, and the only mistake is failing to adjust. Across the spectrum of experience, from the most junior to the most tenured, from the neophytes to the sage, the expectations that employees have from their leaders change. Your success, therefore, is not just in the terms of your engagement or effectiveness at any one point, but in how fluidly and astutely you evolve from mentor to coach to facilitator with the passage of your teams time.

Effective leadership is not about maintaining a single standard. It is about understanding that growth signifies change and that every shift in your employees skill set requires a corresponding shift in your guidance. The dance is complex, the interplay subtle, but for those willing to take up the challenge, its a transformational experience that leads to a capable, cohesive and deeply committed team.

Leadership is not a role; its a response to an environment and the individuals within it. Its about evolving in rhythm with the team you lead, so that when the final note is played, its a harmonious echo of shared success across the halls of your organisation.

Adrian Knowles is the CEO of Harcourts Australia.

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