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Men at Work | ‘What’s your leadership style – Adele or Mariah?’

By Will Stroude

We all lead in different ways and both the ticket sales and Twitter accounts of the currently touring divas Adele and Mariah (first names only required for these two) show that they certainly have more than their fair share of followers. They are famed not only for their music but also for their on stage personas as well as the different ways that they manage their careers and treat their entourages. So what can we learn from them and their contrasting leadership styles?

There is no denying that Adele Blue Adkins is intensely likeable. There’s something about her disarming charm that makes everyone feel like they are her best friend, even when they’re sat miles away in row Z on the upper tier of the O2. She’s both funny and warm and her potty-mouth combined with a filthy cackle only serve to draw us in more, and make us feel like she’s one of us.


This kind of approach in the workplace can definitely have up-sides and it is only natural to want to be liked. People are more inclined to listen to managers they feel comfortable with, and happy staff members tend to be more productive. An enjoyable work environment and a good relationship with a boss can also make staff more willing to go the extra mile to do an excellent job.
It’s a fine balance though and being too friendly with colleagues can have its disadvantages. An overfamiliarity can lead people to take liberties, knowing that the good relationship that has been built can make it hard for their boss to be more firm with them. A blurred line between being a manager and being a friend can also make things difficult if performance issues need to be addressed, making it tougher for the person in charge to be impartial when making decisions and giving feedback.

But then at the other end of the spectrum you have the more direct, demanding and authoritative approach. Step forward Mariah Carey with her outrageous backstage demands rumoured to include kittens, Cristal, and “bendy straws” in rooms with “no busy patterns or harsh lighting”. Not only that but we’ve seen the shade she’s thrown on co-workers such as Nicki Minaj as well as her blatant disregard for her fans’ (or as she prefers ‘lambs’) time showing up late to pretty much every show on her tour so far.


Now I’d never recommend going to the Mariah extreme but The Devil Wears Prada approach does have some pluses at work. Being clear and direct about what is expected allows a team to have clear goals to work towards and helps them to know what is acceptable and what isn’t. What’s more they always knows where they stand and are never unsure about whether they are meeting the required standards, which can help people to strive to be better. There’s no blurred lines here and the lack of chit chat and office gossip can lead to more focus on the job at hand and a less distracted workforce.

But although ruling with an iron fist can make people push themselves and their performance it usually for the wrong reason, fear. This clearly isn’t good or healthy for anyone and though it could increase productivity in the short term it’s not sustainable and can quickly lead to people getting itchy feet and starting to look for alternative and more enjoyable working environments. Mariah’s recent show in Leeds is a good example of this, where some of her loyal ‘lambs’ who had paid their hard earned cash for a ticket to see her perform decided she had used up the last of their good-will and decided to flock out of her concert booing when she was an hour and a half late to the stage.


When I was in banking I once worked for somebody who made Miranda Priestly and Mariah look tamer than the Easter Bunny. The dressing down that I got when I supposedly got her order of fresh-mint tea confused with peppermint tea still brings me out in cold sweats to this day. There’s positives I can take away from that time, mainly growing a thicker skin and resilience, but ultimately after my year in that role I was close to breaking point and almost ready to stage a Bridget Jones style walkout with R.E.S.P.E.C.T playing on my internal soundtrack. It’s a cliché but treat others the way you would like to be treated, and you can’t go far wrong.

It’s hard to knock the approach that either these queens of pop, Mariah and Adele, have taken given the incredible success they have both enjoyed. Although perhaps it is this success that allows them to get away with their chosen styles. But for us mere mortals more of a balance is required and we need to find a happy medium – to have a leadership style that is Adele enough to motivate people so that they enjoy working for us, but at the same time incorporates Mariah’s authority to drive performance and keep people focused. We need to find a hybrid of the two, the perfect middle ground.

Personally I like to think of this middle ground as the Victoria Beckham approach. Likeable and fun enough to inspire people to want to work towards your vision, whilst staying reserved and aloof enough to be able to enforce your high standards. You could do a lot worse than taking your leadership cues from Posh.


Sanjay Sood-Smith is a food entrepreneur and former candidate on The Apprentice. You can find out more about his business Tuk In, which makes curry-in-a-naan, at

Follow him on Twitter at @sanjaysoodsmith

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