A Team Full of Leaders or a Team Full of Leading?

I don’t know about you, but when I look around my team I see a wide variety of individuals, each with different strengths.

Every individual has the capacity to lead, and at various moments, we all do. Psychological theory breaks down aspects of personality in one of two ways:

  1. ‘type’ is considered an unchangeable dimension of personality with varying strength
  2. ‘trait’ is a set of behaviours on a spectrum

There is no leadership type. Context, team composition, history and relationship strength all influence who is able to lead. A drawback with ‘type’ approaches to personality are the identity labels. Even the MBTI that proudly labels me as an extrovert acknowledges that I get a score on the introvert spectrum too. We all have the ability to lead. To what extent then does making ‘leader’ an identity label help?

Imagine a team of 10 people with a random composition of corporate people. It’s likely that one or two characters have the natural disposition to take charge of the group. But what happens if we remove those people?

Time and again in my experience of the situation above (we use it on leadership trainings), the group function improves as a result of removing the so-called leaders. Something in the dominant behaviour of these individuals diminishes other people’s powers. So often the group function diminishes when someone takes the lead.

So, what’s going on? The unintended consequence of some leadership behaviour is that it blocks leading from others. It takes a great deal of self-awareness and attention to lead in a way that increases leading in others. So how do we do it? Here are some tips:


Keep saying it

Communication, communication, communication. “We want a team of leaders. This is an all-play environment. We encourage initiative at every level, I think you can handle this on your own” etc. Pick a few mantras and repeat it as frequently as Eurosport encourages me to purchase a Bora cooker extractor.


Push down responsibility

Allow all team members to lead various aspects of your organisation. Share out the leading jobs. Allow junior staff to lead projects and have experienced staff work for them on the project without changing who is responsible.


Recognise leading

Positively reinforce leading behaviours. When people take initiative make a point of thanking them. Our recent placement student left wearing a captain’s armband. A sign that we saw him leading in several areas.


Challenge senior people to delegate in bigger chunk

Why delegate a task when you can delegate the whole project? Do you really need to be involved in this? Big-chunk delegation makes it easier provided relationships are strong enough to offer support when any issues arrive.


Hire for attitude

You may have to fire a couple of people to make space. But always, always, always (always) ensure attitude is the primary focus of the hiring process. Yes, their CV is extensive. Yes, they have done similar roles elsewhere. But anything less than a brilliant attitude dilutes the whole team. Find people who love leading. And hire them.

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