Team dynamics are complicated and often messy. It takes good leadership to bring out the best in each and every team member and recognize the team effort versus the effort of the leader. However, it’s not about the leader; it’s about the team, and the two become inextricable in great teams.
Great teams accomplish amazing things, and that requires both the team members and the leaders to cede control for individual accomplishment in service of the team. Those teams whose members need individual recognition ultimately fail, as do those that make it all about the leader. Think of great orchestra conductors. They stand in front of the orchestra and wave a baton. They play no instrument and have no audible contribution to the music, but when done well, the results are breathtaking. They know how and when to bring out the individual contributions in service of the team—the greater good—and the result the team can produce. Only through this team effort is beautiful music played and heard.
When famous conductors go off the rails it’s usually because they fail to value the team above themselves. It becomes about them, their idiosyncrasies, and not the joint contribution of the team. This is usually because the leader has let the big “E” word take over: Ego. When ego creeps into the picture, the production of the team—whatever that may be—is always less than it could have been. In some circles, big egos are allowed, even encouraged. However, you will always see a reduction in the performance of the team because it is no longer balanced. Everyone else on the team is a sidekick to the egocentric leader or the star player. Individual contributions that are not simply part of the team production stand outside the circle and detract from performance.
Leading a great team is like walking a tightrope in the beginning: lose your balance and you’re on the ground. If there is no safety net and you were pretty high up, this is particularly painful. Look at any of the great sports teams that continue to win, year after year. It’s about the team, not individual players. Each can be celebrated for their contribution, but without the others, they are nothing more than a great individual contributor. Getting your balance as the leader of a team means being more aware of your team members’ contributions than your own. Organizations are no different than orchestras or sports teams. It takes the precise performance of everyone at the right time to make a strategy come together. Any one person taking credit, hoarding, blaming, or shaming will break apart a team faster than church letting out before a big meal. Results will happen; just not what you originally intended.
Great leaders make sure the team crosses the finish line together—with the leader bringing up the rear.