In the past our concepts and experience of leadership have revolved round the solo leader.
The leader, familiar to us, is the one with ardent followers who unhesitatingly takes on any role and assumes any responsibility that would otherwise fall into the province of a subordinate. The solo leader enjoys free rein and rules as if absolutely. This mode of behaviour carries the advantage that departmental barriers and obstacles can be overcome and decisions, urgently needed, can be put into effect without time delays.
However, there are other circumstances, in which complexity poses greater problems than urgency, where solo leadership is less appropriate.
Happily, an alternative is available - team leadership. The essential difference is that the team leader deliberately limits his or her role and declines to rule absolutely. That self-limitation will show itself in a number of ways.
Firstly, the team leader does not expect to be wiser, more creative or more far-seeing than colleagues, and in consequence is more humble than the solo leader. For that very reason the team leader seeks talent in order to compensate for any personal shortcoming and to improve the balance of the team. The team leader is less interested, and often not interested at all, in admirers and sycophants.
Secondly, by having a greater degree of respect for (and trust in) others, the team leader is more inclined to delegate, does not interfere with the way in which others operate and is more concerned with outcomes.
Thirdly, the team leader fulfils a leadership role by creating a sense of mission. Mission creates the framework whereby each person contributes in their own unique way to the common purpose. In that respect the selection and development of the team are crucial. The assignment of responsibility would otherwise be no more than an act of faith.
Very different, then, is the directive approach of the solo leader who prefers to dole out tasks and specific goals, who expects compliance, and takes no risks with people. The leader is the model which others are expected to follow. When, inevitably, leaders fail, they are discarded.
Is this leadership?
If the team leader does not personally possess vision or the ability to shape people and events, in what respect can the team leader fairly claim to lead?
The answer lies in understanding the nature of leadership and the qualities it requires, in having the humility to appreciate that these may not be the individual’s strong points, in possessing the people skills to recognize them in others and in the strength of purpose to draw suitably gifted individuals into the team.
Why has Team Leadership come increasingly to the fore in recent years? We think there are two answers.
The first is that we are living in a world of increasing uncertainty, characterized by a process of sudden, threatening change. One person can no longer comprehend everything or provide the direction that can cover all occasions.
The second answer is that team leadership is the only form of leadership acceptable in a society where power is shared and so many people are near equals. As dictators fall and democratic or governmental systems rise, whether in the state or in industry, people seek a type of leadership other than one that comes down from high above.
We can help your leaders learn how to get the best from their teams and organisations. We can help them to lead high-performing teams in these VUCA times. Contact us to find out how.
01223 264975 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Footnote: This was taken from Team Roles at Work which was first published in 1993. It is remarkable how current and applicable it remains.