Contextual Leadership

Contextual Leadership intelligence is defined by Anthony Mayo and Nitin Nohria as the ability to understand an evolving environment, and to capitalize on those evolving trends. They have applied it to firms in changing markets over the past century. Steve Jobs at Apple, for example, had a keen ability to pinpoint consumer trends. Apple, Uber, and Airbnb for example were built on reading trends before consumers themselves were aware of the need. Innovative firms with contextual leaders form trends. Market based companies that research first, then develop products and services, follow trends.

More broadly, contextual leadership is an intuitive diagnostic skill that helps a leader to align resources with objectives. The leader understands the distribution of different power resources and moves with, rather than against, the flow of events to implement a strategy.

Contextual leadership implies both a capability to discern trends in the face of complexity and uncertainty as well as adaptability while still trying to shape events. It allows leaders to adjust their style to the situation and to their followers’ needs. It requires them to create a system for the flow of information that “educates their hunches.”

This ability involves the broad political skill, of not only sizing up office politics, but of understanding the positions and strengths of various stakeholders so as to decide when and how to use transactional and inspirational skills. It is the self-made part of luck. Some corporations train personnel to develop contextual intelligence. GE, for example, tries to fit styles to context at its training center for leaders: “whatever their styles, we can show them the kinds of meetings and review processes that play to their advantages.”

Contextual Leadership Strengths

Above all, contextual leaders have the ability to see through complexity and find the clear direction or answer. In addition, these leaders seek information and can rapidly discern the relevant information and just as quickly discard the irrelevant. These leaders may describe their thinking process as collecting puzzle pieces that then suddenly click into place. They may also be unable to answer the question "How did you know that?" To them the answer is obvious and they may be confused as to why you couldn't see it as clearly as they. <br>

These leaders may also be masters at arranging. They seem to have a keen grasp of putting the right resources and people in the right place at the right time.