Great leadership and great teamwork

This post is very slightly adapted from an article by the wonderful Neil Crofts. It’s about leadership and teamwork in all situations.

Neil uses a very simple definition of leadership:

‘Leaders are those that others choose to follow.’

However, I hope we aspire to more than ordinary leadership; I hope we aspire to great leadership. We might define great leadership as: ”enabling all those around you to do their best in pursuit of a common objective.”

If this is the case, what is the difference between great teamwork and great leadership? It would be easy to argue precisely the same definition applies both to great teamwork and to great leadership.

Perhaps this is the point. Perhaps a great leader is simply a great team player, who lifts all the team to higher levels of performance than they previously knew. Crucially, this is a role that all team members can play, not just an appointed leader. Maybe the appointed leader is simply the one who takes the greatest responsibility for defining the common objective of the team and holding the whole team accountable for that objective.

Who’s in the team?

Equally, leadership and teamwork are not just concepts for work or for formal and lasting teams, but for all situations. Teams can form, exist and disband in a dizzying swirl in our lives, in a messy, overlapping, constantly evolving way. You can think of your family as a long lasting team, where you all support each other. You can also create mini momentary teams, when you ally yourself with anyone – a shop assistant, call centre operator, etc.

You can define common objectives for a conversation, for your family or for a friendship. The crucial thing is that instead of having your own agenda and seeing others as opponents to be beaten, you create a shared agenda and see others as allies. As soon as you do that you shift from competitors to team mates and create real potential.

The three steps to a shared agenda:

  1. Be open about what you want from a given situation (you will need to know and be able to communicate this).
  2. Discover what the other parties want from the situation, (you could try asking them).
  3. Take the individual objectives to a higher level to articulate the shared objective.

This can happen in a moment when you form a mini team with someone you have never met, or can be a formal process in the founding of a more lasting team. Without this kind of process there will always be different and usually competing agendas pulling individuals in different directions (including you).

The role of empathy

In case you did not get to see this brilliant article, it is well worth the read (and doing the empathy test too). In it Simon Baron-Cohen observes that a lack of love in our lives, particularly in childhood, reduces the physical size of the areas of the brain associated with empathy. Conversely an abundance of love and care will lead to enhanced empathy.

The best leaders I have ever worked with were over 64 in the scale used on the test. Their leadership is defined by their need to care for their team members and their consequent ability to make everyone feel like they matter and therefore get the best out of them.

Dealing with the tough conversations

The conventional response to this might be to ask – “what happens when someone underperforms or is disruptive?” How does someone so empathetic and ‘soft’ deal with the hard stuff? The answer is simple, though rarely evidenced. The great leader’s concern for the team as a whole means that they are just as likely as the ‘hard’ leader to be intolerant of any behaviour that compromises esprit de corps.

Just because the great leader is kind and caring does not mean that they are lazy or conflict averse. They will just choose to deal with disruption with care and compassion, looking for the cause of the problem and seeking to heal it. If alignment cannot be found, the great leader will find a way for the parties to diverge, such that those departing remain ambassadors for the team and the organisation.

Inspiring great teamwork through great leadership

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