Teams Need Leaders, Not Superheroes

By Dana Gillis, Executive Coach

Watching the NCAA Basketball tournament made me think about the word team and what it means to be a coach or leader. As teams (and my bracket) collapsed, I recalled the old trope, “there is no ‘I’ in T-E-A-M.” As tournament play progressed and I turned that phrase about, I realized there actually is an ‘I’ in team.  That ‘I’ is actually, (insert yourself here) me!  The coach is as vital a part of the team as each of the players.

The first question an emotionally intelligent leader can ask him/herself is, “Am I the only person who can do this job?”  In the context of assessing your “team,” if the answer is yes, it may be time to reflect upon what that answer says about the members of the team you lead.  Subsequent questions you should ask yourself:  Did I gather the right talent for the right positions? Do team members know where I want to take them? Have I empowered members of the team to optimally perform their respective functions?


teams need leaders Teams Need Leaders . . . and Coaches 

A basketball team is composed of five players who work in concert to achieve the common goal of winning. In order to reach that goal, each player has to do her/his part. Guards have to move the ball around. Small forwards have to draw fouls and get to the free throw line. The center has to be able to score in “the paint.” In other words, each player has 1/5th of a job to do in order to meet the goal of winning a basketball game. What is the key to success? Each player was selected based upon their skills and in order to win, they learn the coach’s playbook. What makes the whole thing work is that by virtue of their positions, players have the freedom to react to the constantly changing conditions of the game in order to score enough points to win.

teams need leaders, not superheroesAll this relates to the initial question of, “Am I the only one who can do this job?” A coach, or in this case, the leader of an organization, brings a set of skills and abilities to his/her position that were earned through experiences in positions and jobs they likely held as their respective careers progressed.  That coach or leader could quite possibly perform the jobs of the team members they lead.  To actually do them all at the same time would require leaders with the powers of a superhero. As appealing as being a superhero might be, a more prudent course would be for the leader to build the right team with the requisite skills. And equally important, create a work environment that allows team members to reach their potential, while pursuing the overarching goals of the team. I’m sure you’re thinking, easier said than done.  Read on for a Fearless recipe for success.

Teams Need Leaders . . . and the Right Hire

Going back to the concept of the ’I’ in Team, effective teams are purpose-built for the business at hand. A successful team is composed of members with the specific skills needed to reach an envisioned set of goals. When selecting team members, no function of the leader is more important than properly vetting candidates for the requisite skills and more importantly, ensuring that they will be a “good fit” for the team. Communication and trust are at the very heart of an effective team. Consequently, seek out and utilize the myriad assessment tools that are available. Make them part of the selection process rather than relying on gut feeling or intuition.

“Today’s multigenerational teams require leaders to be in partnership with their team members…”

The leader of today has to keep in mind that she/he most likely does not have the luxury of leading by directive from the top of the organizational hierarchy. The multigenerational teams of today require leaders to be in partnership with their team members for more effective results. The most forward-leaning innovators in today’s marketplace embrace the leader as partner model.

The Vision Thing

Too often, teams are not effective, because team members don’t know where the leader wants to lead them. In order for a team to be effective, the leader must articulate a vision. Then, members of the team must understand and align with that vision. It’s much easier for people to arrive at a destination if they know where they’re going and have a map for guidance.

Learn more about building high-performing teams. 


Teams Need Power 

In many instances, teams fail to succeed in spite of a leader who articulates a clear vision. Success is elusive if team members are not empowered to do what is required to maintain momentum toward achieving that vision. If, as a leader, you find yourself constantly being called upon to put out the fire of the moment rather than focus on shaping and implementing the strategy to achieve your vision, I posit that you’ve not given your team the power to take the initiative to get things done. The effective leader will ensure that each member of the team knows that they are trusted to do what’s required within the parameters of the articulated vision. Furthermore, they know that your support is resolute in time of failure as well as success.

You know that teams need leaders. What next? Get the right talent in place and provide the team a clear understanding of where you want to lead them. Then, empower team members to do what the overarching vision requires. As a result, you’ll find more time to focus on the grand scheme of things. You won’t feel the need to be a superhero and do it all yourself.

Think Fearless!


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