Leadership Should Be a Team Sport

The world of business is becoming increasingly complex, driven by geopolitical pressures, technological advances, and a generation of knowledge workers with looser ties to organizations. The speed at which decisions are required, and the need to work with incomplete information, piles on more pressure. Leaders and followers are therefore required to collaborate ever more closely to solve these challenges.

Published Feb. 29, 2024, by INSEAD.

منبع: https://www.qualitydigest.com/inside/management-article/leadership-should-be-team-sport-032024.html

Suggest ways for the team to do things differently. Try to change the context of how and where team meetings take place. Demote the boardroom table and see if simply sitting in a circle without a physical barrier changes the energy and engagement. One top team that I have interacted extensively with does this regularly. The team is productive, connected, and harmonious. 

Harvard developmental psychologist Robert Kegan explains this phenomenon through “orders of consciousness.” According to his model, about 58% of the population resides in the third order, the socialized order, where they are dependent on, and seeking or bound to, authority. This mindset tends to stifle their voices and drain their energy. They may become aware of the dichotomy between what they believe is right and what they are instructed to do. 

Although the concept of followership is often associated with hierarchy, in organizations the reality is that important things are accomplished through meaningful discussions between groups of people horizontally. And although it’s true that individuals “hold” symbolic positions of authority, for organizations to flourish, the distance between authority figures and those executing important work needs to be greatly reduced. 

Learn the art of skilled communication. Challenge with care, solicit other views, and use the phrase, “I’m wondering if…” as a preface rather than, “I think….” It’s a neat way to introduce an idea without triggering the immediate response of “Well, I think… (the opposite).”

Although Margot bears responsibility for the practice, everyone on the team holds a significant role in the delivery. Weekly team meetings are free-form, informal, and unchaired. These sessions have minimal structure, and all are invited to contribute. While each person “plays” in their position, Margot sees herself more as a team captain. The playing field is level, and she describes the meetings as a “democracy of ideas” sourced from those with the clearest insights at any given moment. There are no barriers preventing any team member from temporarily “playing out of position,” such as visiting a client. 

As John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States, said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” It’s entirely within a follower’s capacity to inspire new thinking, motivate groups to action, coach and develop others, and be a source of intellectual stimulation. 

Every individual should heed this lesson: Never delay taking the lead or resigning yourself to a subordinate role. Engage your system with every fiber, and be intentional about what you want to learn and achieve. Stay true to your integrity and speak up when your inner voice demands it. Time is more fleeting than you dare to imagine.

Anyone exercising these behaviors will be seen as a leader, regardless of their place in the hierarchy. Followers therefore must act their way into leadership positions and not wait to be appointed. They need to find ways to include themselves, not wait to be included. 

Rather than keeping quiet, gently challenge leaders when you disagree. This doesn’t need to be done publicly; an email or casual conversation over coffee will suffice. Biting your tongue makes you part of the problem and creates internal dissonance because you’re not being true to yourself. 

Whatever is written on your business card doesn’t define who you are, how you act, or when you lead. Leadership is a team sport, and all of us are called on to do it at different times, irrespective of our formal roles. 

Like Margot, leaders should give their direct reports the opportunity to express themselves, experiment, innovate, and feel that they will be supported should things go wrong. It’s vital to build psychological safety so that team members feel confident to speak up. 

Just as there’s no yin without yang, there’s no leadership without followership. The two interdependent and complementary roles can’t exist without each other. 

At the same time, team members must explore avenues to express their thoughts and ideas. They need full support to take risks, build confidence, and develop their leadership potential. However, many feel blocked from doing so. Early life experiences and ingrained expectations of authority can foster a high degree of dependency on leaders for instruction and guidance. 

Moreover, this construct hampers true innovation and experimentation, often negatively affecting results. These individuals need to find and use their voice and be courageous in the face of authority. In Kegan’s words, they must move to the fourth order—the self-authoring mind—and metaphorically pick up the pen to become the author of their own destiny. 

While other teams within the firm have more traditional and hierarchical structures, Margot’s team is idiosyncratic—yet is the highest performing. This success can be attributed to the presence of strong yet humble egos. Margot has moved along the leadership developmental spectrum to a point where she finds this style of leadership nonthreatening. Moreover, her “followers” feel no hesitation in assuming leadership, given the space that is afforded to them. This in turn nurtures their own growth and development.

Helping followers become leaders

For example, take the case of Margot, a partner at a communications consulting firm overseeing the fossil fuels practice. On a nearly daily basis, she meets with industry leaders who are often under fire as the world accelerates toward net zero. She has four junior partners and three directors “under” her who are tasked to research the sector, attend conferences, develop intellectual property, make pitch presentations, and communicate with the media. 

The mere fact that we’re talking about leaders and followers implies a duality. But in truth, there is none. We’ve moved to a paradigm where these positions are interchangeable. Leadership and followership are fluid, and those roles should be allocated according to the situation and demands. 

Indeed, in the best social systems and organizations, where difficult, adaptive work really gets done, leadership isn’t a fixed or rigid position but rather a fluid and distributed set of activities. This blurring of roles allows for the most suitable individuals or groups to take on leadership responsibilities, especially when they are best equipped to deliver the needed results.

The importance of playing out of position

Followership is the symbiotic interchange between a leader and those they seek to influence. However, the word has long carried connotations of subservience, implying that followers are subordinates—a term derived from the Latin word for “lower order.” This notion is deeply misguided.

This means listening to the inner voice of integrity, self-dependency, and “groundedness.” This isn’t an easy task and requires an uncomfortable interchange between leader and follower. It can involve asking for forgiveness rather than permission. 

The three C’s of stepping into leadership