Lead like Spandex

by | Aug 25, 2014 | Blog | 2 comments

spandexWhat do leadership and Spandex have in common?

Both are privileges you earn, not rights you have.

Regarding Spandex, just because you can wear Spandex doesn’t mean you should.

As for leadership, just because you enjoy the status of the position doesn’t mean that you should flaunt it, especially if you’re trying to engage with others and influence them to take action, including helping you implement strategic initiatives.

Have you been noticing an increase in leaders being a bit too big for their britches?

Unfortunately, they’ve been all over me like a cheap suit the past couple of weeks.

Take the letter from the non-profit executive requesting me to contribute to a cause near and dear to me.

Her envelope featured her name in HUGE type with the name and logo of the organization she leads printed much smaller. My reaction: I’m going to contribute to the Alzheimer’s Association on the national level, not the state.

Then take two of the leaders of a new business partnership with a program serving executive coaches. To their chagrin, the leaders discovered that many of their customers—including me—misunderstand the program terms and were expecting much more than what the leaders were delivering.

The leaders first launched into the blame game, admonishing us customers for not reading the tiny print and critiquing their IT group for sending out misleading email messages, rather than accepting responsibility that they had a communication mishap on their hands. They then moved into defensive mode, championing the value of the program they were providing.

Their behavior was hardly becoming of professional coaches, especially those who want us to consider them as leaders in the field. My reaction: I’m stopping my program participation.

These leaders certainly don’t fit the definition of servant leadership. As defined by Robert Greenleaf, servant leaders first want to serve. This conscious choice then motivates them to lead.

While our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world would benefit from more servant leaders, our organizations would be easier and more effective places if leaders would practice these 10 habits:

  1. Make it easy for people to work with you and for you.
  2. Listen to your customers and to your employees.
  3. Be responsive.
  4. Be gracious; don’t blame others.
  5. Be inclusive.
  6. Remember that your customers, not you, define value.
  7. Respect others and their opinions.
  8. Keep in mind that optics matter. Symbols communicate loudly.
  9. Note too that actions communicate loudly and much more powerfully than the fine print.
  10. Show people why you deserve their trust; don’t tell people to trust you.

By building these habits into your daily routine, you can earn more respect from others, which makes you a more credible and trustworthy leader.

And by doing so, you’ll be closer to becoming part of the “Spandex culture,” as characterized by the Korn Ferry Institute, the research and analytics arm of the executive recruiting and talent consulting firm.

In the Korn Ferry Institute blog post “Spandex culture: leadership that creates tight loops and flexible structure,” author Jan Rybeck explains how leaders can use communication, feedback, courage, and connection to help organizations “stretch in unexpected, and sometimes, unaccustomed ways without tearing at the seams”—just like Spandex.

This type of stretching is well suited for a VUCA world. Are you ready for it?


  1. Chris Amstutz


    I got chuckle with this one and what a great analogy – spandex to leadership. You are right on every point. I’ll be forwarding those 10 habits of leadership to some people I know in Washington. Failure to follow those seemingly basic points by other “purported” leaders resulted in a great blog post from your end.


  2. Liz Guthridge

    Thanks, Chris. I have to admit this post was therapeutic to write. In all seriousness, though, leaders who lead like Spandex and express humility can engage employees so much more easily and authentically and probably get more done.

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