Team Leadership

An effective leader typically does not exist in a vacuum; there are usually many other people involved, both within and outside the organization. Sometimes this team of people consists of direct or indirect reports, those for whom the leader is a supervisor or manager. Often, however, the team of people is led through influence because they are outside the direct scope of the leader. Working effectively in these contexts can be most challenging for developing leaders, especially if they have not seen influential leaders as role models in the past. Being able to act skillfully in both settings is a hallmark of an effective leader.

Three key components of a successful team leader are:

  • Learning from both mistakes and successes
  • Enlisting others on a vision
  • Promoting trust and collaboration

Following a session on team leadership, you can help participants by encouraging them to revisit the themes of trust, collaboration, and inspiration over the next several weeks and months. Because perceptions of trust and collaboration in particular can evolve over time, it is very helpful to continually delve back into these areas. Thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of the team as a whole helps to increase performance by focusing attention on amplifying successes and addresses weaknesses.

In each case, the image-based activities outlined in the Participant Guide are crafted specifically to address these issues and help the leader identify their own authentic path.

Take a look at the Team Leadership Sample Agenda.

Learning From Mistakes and Successes

Nobody likes to fail. If a leader is not simply “playing it safe” at work, however, some of the risks taken will not be successful. An indicator of a successful leader is that they are able to dust themselves off, reassure the team, and incorporate lessons from what did not work.

To do this effectively takes both personal stamina and insight. First, making a mistake—especially a public and/or significant one—can be dispiriting. Doing so as a leader can be dispiriting for the entire team. One of the first challenges for a leader in that situation, then, is to comfort and reorient the team, to help them feel confident that the situation will improve.

More difficult, however, is learning what went wrong and making adjustments. Imagine a sports team with a winning record. They are in a huddle halfway through the championship game, losing by many points. It takes an insightful and brave leader to change the strategy: to deviate from what brought the team so many wins during the season and try something new. The same is true in other organizations— the more successful they are, the more difficult it can be to adjust when things go

Learning from success is more fun, but not always easier. The key remains the same: helping the participant learn how to deconstruct an outcome to find the root causes. In the case of a success, why did it work? What can be replicated to other projects? This deconstruction process is particularly effective with images, allowing the images to forge connections between strands of the project and the context so that participants can discover the origins of the outcome.

Enlisting Others on a Vision

Often, particularly in larger organizations, a team leader may not have much input into the overall vision of the organization. As a result, the members of the team can easily feel disenfranchised and separated from the meaning of the work they are doing. Th is result depresses morale, productivity, and can impact team dynamics as well. An effective leader, then, must be able to help team members recognize the value within the vision and find their place in making it a success.

There is a longtime and lingering debate in academic circles about the importance of charisma in being a great leader. It is tempting to assume that, particularly in exciting others about a vision, charisma is king. Many studies of effective leaders have shown, however, that it is more important for leaders to be honest, authentic, and forthright. This is an instance where, for many, the intuitive answer is not always the correct one.

To help participants improve their skills at enlisting others on a vision, you may want
to start by guiding them through analyzing a vision and identifying its positives and negatives. Help them unpack what things would be like if the vision were realized. What about if it were not realized? Use those insights to help the developing leader communicate the value.

From there, it is often helpful to work with the participants on storytelling skills. The most effective way to communicate a vision hearkens back to one of the oldest forms of human communication: telling stories. Working with the participants, you can use images to create anchor points of a story that each developing leader can then tell to the group. Through practice and refinement, storytelling skills will begin to improve—and others will get on board.

Promoting Trust and Collaboration

Sometimes, it seems that trust in our society is a disappearing commodity. Trust in our political institutions, our cultural institutions—all at or near a record low. So how do leaders buck the trend? How do they foster an environment of trust and collaboration in their teams?

First, by listening and by asking questions. Throughout the leadership development session, pay attention to how the participants interact with each other. Do they listen attentively? Do they respond to what is offered by each person? If these are not present in the room, you may want to focus some attention in this area.

Next, leaders can promote collaborative trust by focusing on the collective, not the individual. Th at is, when looking for positive outcomes, effective leaders look to what will be the best for the group, not a specific individual. Communication is also framed that way: in terms of we. A good place to start for developing leaders may be to help them characterize the nature of their teams. By leading them through an exploration process about their team and then encouraging them to describe it with
“we” statements, you can help them acclimate to this model of communication.

Finally, there must be an emphasis on transparency. How is the leader feeling? What is the challenge atop the leader’s to-do list, and what do they perceive to be the big challenge for the team? Once you have helped the participant answer those questions, the developing leader should pose them to the team. Where there are disconnects, there is an opportunity for dialogue—which can further build trust on the team if done effectively.

Developing Great Leaders is also available in a printed version.