Developing Leadership Agility

Different Projects, Different Approaches

Advances in Project Management Series


By Ron Meyer
Professor of Strategic Leadership, Tilburg University
Tilburg, The Netherlands


Ronald Meijers
Senior Partner Leadership, Transformation & Governance, Deloitte
Amsterdam, The Netherlands


Every project manager knows that each project is essentially unique. The mix of different people, different objectives, different agendas, different circumstances and different unfolding events leads to a different dynamic that project managers ignore at their peril. One trick ponies never do well – only the agile flourish. To be successful, project managers need to be flexible, that is, they need to have a broad repertoire of potential behaviors and problem-solving approaches that they can tap into. But preferably they should also be adaptive, in other words, have the ability to learn new behaviors and problem-solving approaches if the current set is not sufficient. At the same time, this flexibility and adaptability should be coupled with responsiveness to the situational demands, meaning that they should quickly and accurately sense what the circumstances require and adjust their behavior accordingly. Only where project managers master flexibility, adaptability and responsiveness will they be truly agile and ready to deal with the unpredictable nature of project work.

For leaders in a project setting the need for agility is even higher. Not only is each project unique and shifting over time, but the people involved in projects have become increasingly more diverse. Not only does the workforce come from a wider variety of cultural backgrounds, but there is also a richer mix of genders, affiliations, lifestyles and career paths, each requiring leaders to adjust their behavior to be able to strike the right chord and win hearts and minds in the most effective way. With so many different situations and different people, all demanding a different approach, to be successful leaders must exhibit leadership agility – have the capacity to flexibly switch between leadership styles, and adaptively master new ones, in rapid response to the specific needs of the people and the situation they want to influence.

Yet, the fundamental question is which leadership styles exist that leaders could potentially make use of, what the advantages and disadvantages are of each, and under which conditions one would be preferable over the others. As this is a huge question, this article will limit itself to mapping twenty important leadership styles, grouped into ten pairs of opposite styles (see figure 1 for an overview). For the reader the question is whether you master all twenty and can easily switch between them depending on the needs of the circumstances. That would make you highly agile. The more likely reality is that you will be better at some than at others, leading to the question of whether there are some leadership styles that you need to improve to become more agile. Generally, people tend to exhibit a preference for one side of a pair (we call this their ‘default style’), making the other side of the pair the style requiring further development. If you would like to determine your own default styles, table 1 provides a ‘quick and dirty’ assessment tool.

These ten dimensions are not the only ways in which leadership styles can differ, but they do represent the most important balancing acts faced by leaders in their drive to effectively influence people around them. The ten can be divided into five clusters, depending on the leadership domain involved. The first two dimensions fall into the domain of interpersonal leadership, which deals with how leaders interact with other individuals to achieve certain results. The second pair is concerned with organizational leadership, focusing on the ways in which leaders can get individuals to work together as a strong team. The third set of dimensions is concerned with strategic leadership, dealing with the question of which role a leader plays in the formulation and implementation of strategy. The fourth pair falls into the category of leadership & mission, which deals with the type of purpose that leaders emphasize to mobilize people to follow. And finally the fifth pair of dimensions revolves around the way in which a person deals with being a leader and behaves towards leadership challenges  – leadership and self.


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Editor’s note: The Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books previously published by Gower in UK and now by Routledge worldwide. Information about Routledge project management books can be found here. 

About the Authors

Ron Meyer, PhD

Canada and The Netherlands


Ron Meyer
is managing director of the Center for Strategy & Leadership, an international consulting and management development organization, dedicated to improving companies’ competences in the areas of strategic thinking, leadership, organizational development, business innovation and change management. Ron is also Professor of Strategic Leadership at Tias School for Business & Society, Tilburg University, where he conducts research in the areas of strategy, innovation and leadership, and teaches in a variety of post-experience educational programs.

Ron studied Political Science at the University of Alberta in his native Canada and got his MBA and PhD at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. From 1987 to 1998 he was assistant professor of strategic management at the Rotterdam School of Management. During this period he taught strategy in 15 countries, at universities and in companies, and acted as consultant to a wide variety of firms. For two years he was also Associate Director of RSM, in charge of managing the MBA Program.

Since 1998, at the Center for Strategy & Leadership and its predecessors, Ron has combined boardroom consultancy work with in-company trainings and applied management research. As consultant he works with many top international companies on such topics as corporate strategy, business innovation, strategic alliances and strategies for growth. As trainer he has given seminars and training courses to hundreds of companies around the world and lectured at more than 30 universities.

He has (co-)authored numerous articles and books, among which the internationally leading textbook on strategic management, Strategy – Process, Content, Context: An International Perspective. Over 250.000 copies have been sold so far and the book is used at more than 200 business schools around the world. The 5th edition was recently published, together with the 4th edition of his textbook Strategy Synthesis: Resolving Strategy Paradoxes to Create Competitive Advantage.


Ronald Meijers

The Netherlands



 Ronald Meijers is senior partner Leadership, Transformation and Governance at Deloitte. For years, Ronald has been engaged in boardroom coaching and consulting, while fulfilling various management roles in professional services firms, such as co-chairman of the executive board of Krauthammer. He sits on various supervisory and advisory boards, e.g. at Dunamare, an education group. He gives key-notes on topics such as corporate culture, organizational collaboration, change management, creative thinking, leadership and governance. He has (co-) authored numerous articles, books and columns, among others in Management Team and Management Scope.

Ron Meyer and Ronald Meijers are the authors of the book Leadership Agility: Developing Your Repertoire of Leadership Styles, recently published by Routledge.