Customizing Your Approach to Leadership Matters More Than Ever

By Marty Parker

Customizing your leadership approach to meet the needs of individual team members can be hard – it requires you to build trusting, authentic relationships with your team members, to learn about their passions and their goals, and to understand their learning styles and their coaching needs. In short, it takes time and it takes effort.

But it’s time and effort well spent. Taking a customized approach to leadership is the key to leveraging and unlocking the power of our people and our culture in today’s world of work.

Gone are the days of one working style fitting all. The power of individual employees to find roles that connect with their purpose and fit with their lifestyles has grown. This customization in the way we live, the catering to the individual needs of each consumer, has infiltrated the way we work, with flexible schedules and work-from-home options becoming more common. In fact, a 2020 report from Statistics Canada states that “most jobs in finance and insurance (85%), educational services (85%), and professional, scientific, and technical services (84%) can potentially be performed from home.”1 This has also started to shift the power in the employer-employee relationship.

“I remember reading Daniel Pink’s first book, Free Agent Nation, and connecting with his idea that everyone could be their own worker, working from home and being their own contractor… Pink went so far as to write that “in the first half of the twenty-first century, the new emblematic figure is the free agent—the independent worker who operates on his or her own terms, untethered to a large organization, serving multiple clients and customers instead of a single boss.”2

“This movement to customizing your approach to life, and to building a life that you find fulfilling, has been happening for many years. But historic events, and recently the COVID-19 pandemic, have accelerated our need and ability to embrace self-directed, individualized ways of working. Put another way, the world has changed, and we need to follow suit.

“Leaders who do not account for their team members’ needs for autonomy will quickly find themselves at the back of the pack when it comes to finding and keeping high performance talent. In our world of executive search, we often ask this question: “What leadership style do you work best with?” I’m willing to bet if you surveyed the executive search community across North America, you’d find that “I don’t want to be micromanaged” is the answer 80 to 90 percent of the time. People want to be autonomous. They want support; they want coaching; they want to become the best they can be at something; they want to deliver quality work; and, frankly, they want variety. (McKinsey reports that because individuals no longer stay at a firm for their lifetime, they value personal and professional growth and development as among the top criteria for joining an organization.3)

“The desire for autonomy is one of many things driving the shift toward side hustles and the gig economy. While there will always be people who want and need permanent, full-time employment within an organization, that won’t necessarily be the norm for the next generation of workers. The 2017 “Freelancing in America” survey found that 50 percent of millennial workers are already doing freelance work and that by 2027 the majority of US workers will freelance. Sixty three percent of the freelancers who participated in that survey also indicated that they began freelancing by choice—up ten points over the same survey in 2014.4 It goes back to customization: today’s workforce is used to customizing everything about their lives to meet their personal needs and preferences and to getting instant and ongoing feedback on their efforts. Why should their work experience be any different?…

“Fostering individuality and autonomy in the workplace while hiring people to demonstrate the behaviours that best represent the culture of an organization and allow it to succeed is no easy task. It requires a deep understanding of the organization’s culture, as well as the ability to coach individuals who have their own gifts, talents, passions, and purpose. In short, it requires seeing employees as people rather than resources.

“So, culturepreneurs need to look at training to develop our own leadership skills. I see this all the time with Waterstone’s Building High Performance Teams and Cultures program. We use a four-module process of change management through which organizations align their culture, team, and business strategy to drive peak performance. It’s hard work, and some leaders struggle more than others to incorporate transparency, trust, safety, and recognition into their style. (We’ll be discussing these qualities in detail in the coming chapters.) Part of the reason that I’m so passionate about the process is that I’ve seen it work again and again. Leaders who put in the work get results.

“For many of us, managing in a more individualized way requires a shift in thinking, and that means putting in the hard work to become a different kind of high performance leader.”

Excerpted from Chapter 4 (The Rise of Bespoke Leadership) in The Culturepreneur: How High Performance Leaders Craft Culture as Competitive Advantage (Page Two 2021). Order your copy today.

1 Zechuan Deng, René Morissette, and Derek Messacar, “Running the Economy Remotely: Potential for Working from Home During and After COVID-19,” Statistics Canada, May 28, 2020,
2 Daniel H. Pink, Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself (New York: Business Plus, 2001), 25.
3 Nick van Dam, ed., Elevating Learning & Development: Insights and Practical Guidance from the Field (McKinsey & Company, 2018), 3,
4 As cited in “Freelancers Predicted to Become the U.S. Workforce Majority Within a Decade, with Nearly 50% of Millennial Workers Already Freelancing, Annual ‘Freelancing in America’ Study Finds,” Upwork press release, October 17, 2017,