For a long time now, we’ve focused on the leader as an individual and the hero of the piece. It is true that leaders are important and continuously working to develop people as confident leaders who trust in themselves and their teams is critical to the future of the world and business. However, leaders are still somehow being raised with the idea that they have to provide all the solutions themselves and, worse, know it all about leading teams without allowing themselves to ask anybody else. In this brave new world, people in leadership roles and in teams everywhere need to be told ‘you are not alone’, as we completely reframe support networks to begin the journey of liberating leaders and teams and giving them the collective power they deserve.
Over the last few years, I’ve seen and felt the palpable impact of the simple phrase ‘you are not alone’ on groups of leaders. When we start handing around the power and responsibility to do great work to everyone on the team and open up the idea that leaders, and indeed everyone on a team, can lean both inwards and outwards to peers for support, the world suddenly looks like a significantly better place. It’s been well recorded in many articles, books and thousands of daily conversations in businesses across the world (reflected in my own experiences) that many leaders are promoted into leadership roles, expected to transform over a ‘magic weekend’ into a superhero people leader, and land back at their desks on Monday ready and raring to build a brave new future for their people. These people often don’t know where to start to sign off a timesheet but, much more importantly, don’t realise:
- It’s not about you, the team holds the key to their collective success
- Everything you need to build a great, top performing team, is in front of you if you are willing to ask the right questions and put ego aside
- Every new leader feels the same and the sooner you reach out to your team to co create a collective effort, the better and stronger everyone will be
In the words of one of the world’s pre eminent thought leaders in team coaching Peter Hawkins, “Organizations are most effective when the teams responsible for their success function to the best of their ability. When the relationships within the team work well and all members have a clear focus, the team is able to achieve goals more easily.” Simple, elegant and so true. Individual leadership alone, whichever school of leadership theory and practice you favour, will not win the day and certainly not these days. There has been much said in recent times about the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world we now work in and it is in part this that makes the ability to work within your team and often a team of teams more critical than it has ever been to our success at work and as a human race. None of our goals, be they bringing a halt to climate change or meeting your next client deadline, can be achieved through one person directly attempting to influence the behaviours and quality of output of a group of others, only a collective effort makes real change.
So far, potentially so unsurprising, as it is widely acknowledged and researched by the likes of Google and MIT that teamwork is the critical lever for commercial success. What is potentially missing from the debate but coming to the fore and is something I have certainly observed, is that teams of leaders are the untapped resource. Peter Hawkins speaks in one of his podcast appearances of an executive leadership team in a healthcare organisation who had truly excellent team meetings. For half a day every week, this team enjoyed high quality, connected, energised team meetings and all appearances indicated they were a tight knit unit. Unfortunately, for the other four and a half days a week this team did not work as a team, but went back to working in and on their parts of the individual parts of business, in silos and without collective intent. The real work for this apparently high functioning executive team was to face up to the potential for their organisation if they were willing to reflect and work on the gaps between themselves as a team, as well as the teams they were leading. Continuing to work as a team when you have left your team meetings is when the rubber really hits the road.
Often when we begin work with a group of leaders to talk about the teams they are leading, they have not to any extent reflected or worked on themselves as a team. As my PeopleNotTech colleague Duena Blomstrom writes top teams are often the least psychologically safe partly because the perceived interpersonal risk grows as leaders ascend the career ladder and partly because the C-suite and leadership teams below are not KPId on teamwork. It is when we start to coach and develop these teams to identify opportunities to leverage the immense power of the collective that great strides can be made. Teamwork eats leadership for breakfast and you are most definitely not alone.