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Belbin leadership: strengths-based, context-driven interventions towards authentic, purposeful leadership.

At Belbin, we empower leaders to lead authentically, according to their strengths.

Belbin theory states that if you understand how you contribute to a team, you can develop your leadership skills and strengths, and manage your weaknesses. 

CEOs and team leaders worldwide use Belbin theory and practice to boost their leadership skills.

They become more effective, aware leaders, who use those skills purposefully and within the context of their team.

How we help leaders

  • We work to help leaders not only to become more self-aware, but to apply their learning and situate their self-knowledge in a team context. 
  • In a volatile and rapidly-changing world, many leaders are aware that they don’t have all the answers, but are wary of ceding power in case it results in chaos.
  • We enable distributed team leadership by helping individuals understand when and how to lead.
  • Without followers, there are no leaders. Leaders need to build credibility by developing trust and creating a learning environment, rather than a blame culture.
  • We help leaders cultivate the trust and psychological safety that drives team performance.

Self-awareness and authentic leadership

Authentic individuals make for self-aware, inspiring and effective leaders.

They engender trust, defend their people when needed, motivate employees, push for change and take responsibility for mistakes.

With an authentic leader in place, employee wellbeing and engagement grow, and so too do profits.

Individuals Do Not Make Good Carbon Copies Meredith Belbin

So, what does being an authentic leader really mean?

Leaders need a grasp of the so-called ‘triad of awareness’ – an inward focus, a focus on others, and an outward focus.

The first two help to cultivate emotional intelligence, while the third improves a leader’s ability to strategise, innovate and manage the organisation.

Emotional intelligence begins with self-awareness, or listening to your inner voice. Leaders who hone this skill are able to make better decisions and lead more authentically.

“To be authentic is to be the same person to others as you are to yourself. In part that entails paying attention to what others think of you, particularly people whose opinions you esteem and who will be candid in their feedback". – Daniel Goleman, Harvard Business Review

Our focus on others allows us to be empathetic leaders and build strong relationships with others.

It enables leaders to relate to others, find common ground, be inclusive of different viewpoints and consult others in decision-making. It builds ‘cognitive empathy’ – the ability to understand someone else’s perspective.

But for leaders, this can be hard to come by. As we rise through the ranks, those who work for us are less likely to give the honest, open feedback necessary for effective leadership. In addition, research from Berkeley suggests that higher-ranking individuals tend to listen less to (and interrupt more) those beneath them in the power structure.

As Goleman goes on to say, we need “a structured way to match our view of our true selves with the views our most trusted colleagues have – an external check on our authenticity”.

How do the Belbin reports help?

In order to harness the insights others can provide, we need a structured, balanced and evidence-based feedback stratagem which enables leaders to cultivate leadership skills and greater emotional intelligence.

The Belbin reports provide just this. Many personality (or psychometric tests) are self-reported, so they are limited to the leader’s own view – the inner voice.

Belbin incorporates Observer feedback from co-workers, and analyses and compares the two in depth, so that the individual’s self-knowledge can be contextualised in light of the behavioural assets others see in them.

Free of preconceptions, leaders can work towards maximising their own strengths and aligning the two sets of views into a more authentic and coherent leadership style.

How can Belbin help? The Belbin reports and the importance of feedback

Belbin Individual report

Finding out how you see yourself, and how others see you, is the first step towards self-awareness.

Individual Reports

Observer Assessments

To understand the strengths others see we must ask them for feedback. We need a mix of internal and external awareness. Find out more about Belbin Observer assessments here

What are Observer Assessments?


In an uncertain environment, where there is lots of upheaval, leaders need to focus on their ability to communicate and connect with employees. 

“Many leaders may be overestimating how well they’re connecting with their staff. Introspection is hard – and sometimes painful – but all leaders need an honest assessment of their own strengths and weaknesses.” -

IBM Institute for Business Value, 2015


Discovering your leadership superpowers

Developing as a leader requires sustained effort every day. We need to understand our own personal brand, to be willing to learn – and tactical about changing our behaviours. And we need to lead from a position of strength.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, no silver bullet. No job title, training course or policy which transforms someone into a leader. Whilst it may be tempting to emulate leaders we admire, our predecessors or mentors, this is a road to nowhere.

“The team leader does not expect to be wiser, more creative, or more far-seeing than colleagues, and in consequence is humbler than the solo leader. For that very reason the team leader seeks talent in order to compensate for any personal shortcomings and to improve the balance of the team.” – Dr Meredith Belbin

How you play your hand

When it comes to personal development, we are far more motivated and effective when working to our own strengths. Strengths-based management practices have been shown to boost sales, profits and engagement.

In Belbin terms, this means leveraging your behavioural strengths in the best way to meet your goals.

As Max Isaac (Belbin North America) says: “It’s not about the cards that you’re dealt. It’s how you play your hand”.


The Belbin report identifies a number of preferred or natural ways of working – these form the basis of our Team Roles leadership styles.

But there are also a number of manageable roles: hidden assets that we take for granted and can cultivate with a little effort. These are the ‘Ferrari in the garage’ or, to use another metaphor, our hidden leadership superpowers.

For example, someone with strong Completer Finisher behaviour may have made their mark by promoting high standards across an organisation that was once slapdash and error-prone.

But others might see and value Monitor Evaluator behaviours – the same person’s talent for strategic thinking and prudent decision-making. Armed with this knowledge, leaders can cultivate their behaviour plan – their strategy for bringing those behaviours to the fore and aligning their self-understanding with others’ views.

How the Belbin Individual reports can help

The Belbin Individual report analyses someone's contributions in terms of the nine Belbin Team Roles.

Identifying our behavioural styles is the first step towards increasing self-understanding and building more effective working practices.

Each individual needs to understand their key strengths and how to articulate how they prefer to work. This increases employee engagement, allows managers to allocate work more effectively and builds mutually beneficial working relationships with colleagues.

Situational Leadership

This idea is in keeping with the theory of situational leadership developed by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey in 1969. According to situational leadership theory, we don’t have to rely on one static leadership style. Rather, we can adapt our leadership style to meet the needs of a particular situation or team.

To do this – and see the impact in our leadership style – requires consistent commitment to strengths-based initiatives and willingness to adapt.

Belbin helps develop leaders wherever they are within an organisation, by helping people understand their strengths and how to work on their own personal ‘brand’.

Once leadership has grasped the full potential of unleashing and aligning strengths, the trickle-down effect within the organisation can be powerful. Only by making strengths-based practices a fundamental strategic priority can leaders hope to instigate real change.


Situating leadership in a team context

Many leadership programs fail to make a real impact because they are not applied back in the office. Intellectual or theoretical understanding of particular leadership skills does not equate to practical application.

Charles Handy defined leadership in terms of purpose:

“A leader shapes and shares a vision which gives point to the work of others.”

And leadership skills are practised and developed in relation to others too – there can be no leadership without a team to lead.

Our clients, pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, wanted to ensure that their leadership programme focused not just on personal development or executive education, but on situating leadership within a team context.


Case study

Multinational pharmaceutical, Novo Nordisk, uses Belbin to connect their leadership program seamlessly to real team and business issues.

Novo Nordisk China wanted to shift the focus of the leaders on their leadership programme. Rather than focusing purely on individual leadership skills, personality and abilities, they wanted to develop their leaders within the context of the team,

Read how Novo Nordisk used Belbin

Moving beyond ‘command and control’: solo vs team leadership

“Leadership in a team setting is much less about command and control, and more about getting the most out of a diverse and experienced group of individuals.” - EY, 2013

In his book, Team Roles at Work, Meredith Belbin describes the difference between solo an team leaders.

The solo leader:

  • Plays an unlimited role and ‘interferes’ or micromanages. This is likely to be objectionable to those who are charged with the day-to-day running of the business.
  • Strives for conformity. They try to mould people to particular standards, rather than showing an appreciation for diverse perspectives and contributions.
  • Collects acolytes. Solo leaders are not interested in honest feedback. Instead, they surround themselves with admirers and sycophants who will reinforce their viewpoints.
  • Projects objectives. The solo leader issues edicts and makes it clear what is expected of others. These objectives are the domain of the leader, rather than being reached by consensus.

By contrast, a team leader:

  • Deliberately limits their own role. They delineate the boundaries of their role according to their Team Role strengths and delegate other work to colleagues. They are more concerned with outcomes than with interfering with the specifics.
  • Builds on diversity. They value differences between people and seek out different perspectives. 
  • Seeks out talent. Team leaders do not expect to be wiser, more creative or more strategic than colleagues, so they are more humble than solo leaders. As a result, they are not threatened by people with particular skills or abilities, but see an opportunity for greater team performance in including others with skills distinct from their own.
  • Develops colleagues. The team leader encourages others to work within their strengths and cultivate latent talents. 
  • Creates a sense of mission. Rather than forcing others to follow decrees from on-high, the team leader projects a vision or framework in which others can work, according to what they can contribute.


“There is no single leadership culture, no single leadership policy, philosophy or tenet which applies everywhere.” – John Mark Williams, Institute of Leadership CEO


Distributed leadership

Distributed or rotated leadership takes this one step further, suggesting that the person best equipped to lead is the one who is best placed to do so, rather than someone with a particular job title or level.

The disadvantages of ‘command and control’ or solo leadership are well known and documented, but many executives are cautious of distributed leadership.

They might understand the importance of empowering teams with decision-making, but are nevertheless afraid that disorganisation and chaos will result.


In order for distributed leadership to feel like a viable and safe option, strong foundations must be in place.

These include purposeful selection and development of the team, knowing the strengths of each individual, and cultivating trust, accountability and psychological safety.

Without careful attention to these factors, handing over responsibility could yield unpredictable results.

A strengths-based tool is a natural fit with distributed leadership, since it gives teams – and executives – the confidence to pursue projects and build teams on purpose, with the talents needed to lead the project through each stage of its life cycle.

Leadership roles can be fulfilled by anyone, no matter their Team Role strength. If they know those strengths and can use them to advantage, they are likely to be effective leaders.


7 reasons why collaborative leadership beats solo leadership hands down

“We are living in a world of increasing uncertainty, characterised by a process of sudden, threatening change.  One person can no longer comprehend everything or provide the direction that can cover all occasions.” Dr Meredith Belbin

Read the article

Entrepreneurial leaders

Making distributed leadership work can require a more wholesale change in the way the organisation functions – namely a more democratic approach.

 Deborah Ancona writes for Harvard Business Review on the importance of balancing power and control, so that new opportunities can be seized without a lone actor exposing the organisation as a whole to undue risk.

In innovative start-ups, entrepreneurial leaders are expected to:

  • Identify and seize opportunities, and lobby for resources, persuading colleagues to join and share their vision. These leaders need to be confident in their own abilities and judgement, and able to convince others of the viability of their idea.
  • Change course as a result of collective decision-making. Promising ventures ‘start small’ and attract investments as they go, whilst non-starters are collectively vetted by talented people, encouraging leaders to ‘place small bets’ in terms of which projects will work and which won’t. As a result, potential issues and feedback are aired and resolved early on, and leaders learn resilience when faced with failure.
  • Have a solid understanding of the goals and values of their organisation, as well as customer needs and trends. Cultural values and goals are embedded in everyday communication so that new projects align with, and progress, those goals.
  • Step up and step down. Leaders embrace the idea that everyone can lead, not just those with particular job titles. Everyone in the team is expected to discern when to lead and when to follow, which requires placing team success above individual egos.

Leadership styles

In addition to solo and team leadership, there are a number of other different types and theories which can inform our understanding of leadership. This is by no means an exhaustive list.



Transactional leadership

Transactional leadership (sometimes called managerial leadership) posits that the responsibilities of a team leader are to manage team members’ performance in a structured environment to achieve group goals.

This authoritarian style of leadership uses rewards and punishments to motivate followers to complete specific tasks - the ‘telling’ style of leadership.


Transformational leadership

The transformational leadership approach focuses on creative positive, lasting change, developing followers into leaders.

If transactional leadership is the ‘telling’ style, transformational leadership is the ‘selling’ style, since it relies on motivating and inspiring others


Servant leadership

In servant leadership, the leader’s goal is to serve others, rather than to reach for, or exert, power.

The theory is that the shift in mindset towards service increases employee engagement and commitment, and thereby leads to growth.

“Team leadership is the only form of leadership acceptable in a society where power is shared and so many people are near equals.” – Dr Meredith Belbin, Team Roles at Work

What next?

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