Monday, April 21, 2008

Can you have a leader without a team?

Recently in an answer I posted to a question on Linkedin, I provided some thoughts on whether leadership is born or bred, part of nature or nurture. I felt that this was an appropriate point for this blog, as well, since leadership is all about connecting. To be a leader you have to have a team - or else there is no one to lead.

Often leaders miss the importance of connecting with those around them, and often may focus on the importance of their own ego of being "the leader" and their own success. With leadership, though, the focus has to be on the leader's team, not the leader. To be an effective leader, one also have to be skillful at connecting to others. The successful leader (regardless of their skill sets and natural ability or even training) must understand this point first and foremost.

Some might argue that certain leaders have superior genetic tendencies that help them succeed. I don't think it is unlike athleticism. Some people are going to naturally excel at sports, but others might struggle to get to the same point. However, as much of one's success is as much about one's heart and passion, which can also be a kind of natural talent. The ones who are born with the most natural ability, if not carefully crafted, often fail in the end. It is their own egos of not wanting to learn (and assuming that they know it all - the star "ball hog") that keeps even naturally gifted people from being able to connect to their team. Such individuals ultimately fail in leadership - despite exceeding talent. If you are someone without a team willing to follow, can you really be a leader? All of us can learn to improve our leadership. Thus, a component of leadership has to be nurtured and must certainly be learned.

There are definite qualities of leadership that do arise from genetic tendencies, but I think like the senses, other tendencies can often make up for talents that are lacking - if one learns to use such substitute abilities. For example, empathic leaders will effect their team in a different way, than someone who is a stoic leader. Each may be as effective, with the right team and in the right circumstance - if they are able to adjust their natural tendencies to achieve the same goal - which is to motivate their team to succeed. Like a parent, a leader also cannot always use the same methods for every teammate. Each individual may have to be led differently. If a leader lacks a skill set needed to succeed, he or she must also understands his or her limitations and empower a lieutenant to support that weak area, so he or she still can success in the mission. Thus, sometimes it is about empowering a leadership team to lead the rest. Good leaders often give the credit for success to the team, and take the blame of failure on themselves - as a method of empowering the team.

At the end of the day, a successful leader must set aside the ego and individualism of leadership and see how to engage the team. The leader must be certain to have everyone in the right position for their own talents, empower them to achieve their objective, and motivate them effectively to want to do so. Even with this, though, it is all about the team, not the leader. Whether you are ultimately the leader, the lieutenant or the follower, ... it is all about connecting.

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