Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course 5, Lesson 11
The Team Leader Should Not Be a Member of the Team
Copyright 2001 Dick Wulf
In the purest model of team leadership, the team leader is not really a member of the team. The purpose of the team leader not being a member of the team is to allow (a) differing responsibilities and (b) the objective distance necessary for these leadership responsibilities.
The team leader, the team, and each team member all have different responsibilities. The team leader has to help the team develop in its abilities.
The team’s responsibilities relate to accomplishment of the team purpose. For example, the team works toward creating more and more effective mousetraps.
Team member responsibilities relate to contributing to the team effort. Each member does his or her part to help the team design mousetraps as well as to help the team take good care of its members.
On the other hand, the team leader does not work on the team purpose (mousetraps). The team leader spends his or her energy on the team, helping it become all it can be.
If the team leader sees himself or herself as a team member, energy and attention will be drained away from helping the team become a most effective entity. He or she will begin helping with the design of mousetraps or team maintenance functions (example: planning team "morale" picnics). The focus on the team will be lost.
There are many examples where the team leader is not intricately involved in the work of the team. Sports gives us many examples. Think of a basketball team and its coach. The coach is clearly not a member of the basketball team. He or she does not actually get out on the floor and work with others to score points. In fact, there are so many aspects of team functioning that sports teams usually have more than one coach. There are just too many leadership responsibilities for the team leader to do team member responsibilities.
The family is an example where the leader (parent) must also act as a member. This makes family leadership much more difficult. The result is that in almost all cases parenting occurs in families but not family leadership. Few parents build their families into highly functioning groups (teams) where there is helpful interaction between family members for a family purpose (example: to help everyone enjoy life and become all he or she can be for God's glory). The losses to the family and to family members is great when the family leadership role is necessarily compromised by parents being leader-members. But, when a parent can remember he or she is not a “typical” family member, but a family member who is also the family leader, then some focus on leadership is restored and the family can blossom.
As it is important for the team leader to not consider herself or himself a member of the team, it is also very important for the team and its members to know that the team leader is not a team member in the strictest sense. The team and its members need to remember that the team leader has many tasks to do to help the team become more and more effective. They need the team leader to help the team become a true team of interdependent people helping one another work toward the team purpose. They also need the team leader to help the team become better and better at doing its tasks, many of which have more to do with being a team than to working on the purpose of the team (e.g., personally supporting one another, overcoming the many barriers that impede progress, etc.). If the team and its members treat the team leader like a team member, they will draw her or him away from these helpful functions.
Because of inadequate models of team leadership, many teams look to the team leader to do tasks that are really the team’s responsibility and which the team and its members can do much better. It is important that the team understand that it has responsibilities for many things traditionally thought of as team leader responsibilities. If the team leaves its tasks to the leader, it will accomplish much less. The team should never be such a passive experience. Many teams fail because the team (and often even the leader) thinks many of the team’s tasks should be done by the leader. At the least, this makes a very weak team. At the worst, it destroys the team and results in a loose collection of people, all doing the minimum, depending on the leader for direction and not working together for coordinated results.
It is much better for the team to realize that it must do almost everything. In fact, the team can eventually do almost everything that a leader does, and do it much better. The team can make its own decisions, teach its members, guide the course of its meetings, make its members feel valued – almost everything many models of team leadership normally assign to the leader.
If the team is to become strong, it must understand that it is responsible for its own success. The team leader cannot be responsible for something that is really only in the team’s control. A grave mistake is believing that good leadership alone brings team success. It is proper leadership plus enormous team effort that brings team obedience and victory!
There are many things for the team leader to do in helping the team reach its maximum effectiveness. But, if the team leader gets trapped in doing the work of the team rather than team leadership responsibilities, only minimal effectiveness will be attained.
Therefore, it is critical that . . .
(a) the team leader not consider himself or herself a member of the team; and
(b) the team and its members not think of the team leader as a member of the team; and
(c) the team leader not do things the team must and can do; and
(d) the team not expect the team leader to do the work of the team.
The responsibilities of team leadership referred to above require a high degree of personal distance from the primary concerns of the team and its members. A team leader who tries to be both a member and the leader will often not be able to have sufficient distance for the required objectivity. This aspect is less critical around minor difficulties the team will face. However, those things that can really harm or even kill a team are problems often only seen by those not blinded by personal involvement.
In other words, the team leader needs to be far enough away from the trees to be able to see the forest.
The leader must be able to stand back and look at the team’s process to be of critical help to the team. A leader who is also a member, at least at the start of the team, will develop a team that reaches only part of its potential.
While the team is thinking about how to achieve the purpose, the team leader must be thinking of how the team is doing, what barriers to the team’s success exist, and a host of other tasks clearly not associated with participating as a member of the team. It is quite helpful for the leader to ask the team to let him or her lead the team in the sense of a coach rather than an active member of the team. He or she can explain that such leadership is absolutely necessary if the team is to become successful and the team members are to grow in their own abilities.
When the Leader Can Become Somewhat a Member of the Team
Under excellent leadership, the team will eventually become quite good at doing its tasks without the help of the team leader. The team will then take on more and more responsibility for evaluating its own performance. When this happens, the team leader can act a little more like a true member of the team. The responsibility distinctions will not be so necessary and the need for objectivity by someone personally distant will be diminished. But, if the very successful team has become comfortable with the team leader not being part of the team, there may be no reason to change this aspect of team leadership.
Next: Reducing Turnover Through Successful Teamwork
Copyright 2012 Dick Wulf, Colorado, USA