While chatting with a group of business contacts the other day, one person referred to colleague as a Chameleon, which struck up an unexpected debate. I had always fancied myself a chameleon – in a good way. However, in my friend’s context, the connotation was intended to be negative. “He’s such a Chameleon!”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “There’s an art to being a Chameleon,” I championed for myself and my well-intentioned Chameleon counterparts. “Isn’t being adaptable a skill?”
And so the debate began.
I beg to differ. I think in sales, in business, that being a Chameleon is an art form that very few have mastered. It is a fantastic skill, dare I say, an art. In my book, being a Chameleon doesn’t mean you are indecisive, deceptive or easily influenced. It is quite the opposite. To be a Chameleon, you must be well rounded, possess varied experience and be adaptable to changing situations, people and environments. I would further assert that some of the best business people should be and are Chameleons when the need arises.
Here are five situations that I have experienced, where being a Chameleon was quite beneficial.
Networking – The key to networking is finding and connecting with others that share a common interest or goal. You may not always find your self in a situation where you know those at a networking event or even have much in common. Chameleons find what they have in common with a stranger and they change their questions and approach based on the person that they are chatting with in the moment. You’d be surprised how many people cannot carry on a conversation! It is no longer a question of being the smartest guy in the room, it is about having the right contacts. The world is all about networks. Without the ability to network you are dead in business.
Management – Managing people is something you either love or hate. No two people are the same and when you have multiple people from different walks of life reporting to you directly it can become very complicated very quickly. To bridge the gap, Manager Chameleons find common ground. Chameleons make the best managers, I would argue. Their direction can be clear and unwavering while still finding a way to communicate differently to different employees.
Travel – Having world experience is a key quality of a Chameleon. You have to have seen and experienced cultures, languages, socio economic differences from that of your own upbringing in order to relate to those who didn’t grow up like you.
Sales – Being a Chameleon allows you to engage and connect with others on a personal level. Chameleons are comfortable at a black tie cocktail party just as much as they are drinking a Natural Light at the local dive bar. Business deals are done everywhere – not just the boardroom. Good sales people are well rounded and can adapt to whatever situation a prospect may throw at them.
Leadership – I believe Chameleons are highly emotionally intelligent. To truly lead, you must have someone following you. Just because you are a Chameleon doesn’t mean that you waffle on decisions or lack conviction. Chameleon leaders listen to their followers and change when it is necessary. Chameleon leaders reinvent themselves as the environment changes. They are able to avoid being gobbled up by prey (i.e. the competition) because they have mastered the art of being a Chameleon.
I didn’t convince everyone in the debate that day to see Chameleons as a positive type of person – a rare person – the best type of person you want to work with.
(At least they didn’t admit it outwardly.) But, I hope more HR leaders, recruiters, and executives will seek out and value Chameleons in the hiring process. They bring much more to the workplace than adaptability. They bring color.