I am sure we’ve all heard the phrase, “There’s no “I” in team”. I agree with the sentiment of that. I agree that a team cannot achieve excellence with ego. I agree a team working together can achieve much more than the work of a lone genius over the long haul. I get all that as I am sure you do. I guess I just want to bring this “team” thing back into balance a little and emphasize the importance a leader (the “I”) can have on a team. My observation as an employee for nearly 20 years and having done what we’ve done across the globe for our Clients is that a leader has a noble, honorable responsibility to lead the team well. The buck really does stop with him or her, to use another often-heard phrase.
There are essentially three types of team leadership isn’t there?Autocratic, democratic and did I hear someone say, “Pathetic”? No, come on the third type of leadership is Laissez Faire leadership. Lets take each of those in turn and consider how the team wins or loses under that leadership style.
Autocratic Leadership – I believe you’d agree with me that Autocratic leadership can stifle a team — the team will get fed up of having its ideas shot down and overruled by an Autocratic leader and so will just “do the job description” and will tend to work out of a paradigm of fear – why? Well, they’re fearful of the Autocratic leader and so will just “stay within the lines” (to use another metaphor). Teams with Autocratic leaders don’t tend to see themselves as a “team” — they tend to see themselves as replaceable individuals — cogs in the boss’s wheel to get things done for him or her. Direct reports of Autocratic leaders don’t tend to “think”, they tend to just “do” and do whatever the boss wants (nothing more and nothing less) by when the boss wants it. They rarely go the extra mile, unless operating out of position of fear where they want to triple check just so the boss doesn’t get angry. There is a time and a place for autocratic leadership and I’d suggest that is when there’s an emergency, for example if there’s a fire in the building I’d rather the Fire Officer tell me what to do than ask for my input!
Democratic Leadership – This style of team leadership takes into account the voice of others around them. The advantage of course is that people tend to support what they create and so teams with democratic leaders, have greater ‘buy in’ as they say. The disadvantage, is that it takes time. As a style of team leadership, it can also frustrate team members for simple or irrelevant decisions — I mean do we have to have a meeting to discuss and agree which color post-it notes to purchase? I’m exaggerating but we have had to coach some overly democratic leaders to err….step up and be more decisive and dare I say, autocratic.
Laissez Faire Leadership – This style basically abdicates leadership completely and essentially is saying to the team, “Do want you want — you guys figure it out.” The advantage for this style (which can be very useful on projects in areas that have not been worked before), is that it stimulates creativity and innovation. Leadership naturally emerges to keep the process moving. The disadvantage is that if its prolonged it can frustrate the team as they feel rudderless, wandering aimlessly in the storm. The problem is some leaders, (if you can use such a noble word for such negligent behavior) have this as their normal mode of operation. We’ve had to coach “leaders” who have adopted this style of team supervision because their team is crying out for leadership that they’re not providing. One of the worse styles of leadership I’ve seen is where someone is all cool and “laissez faire” but when the results don’t come they get super autocratic. I think psychologists have another phrase for that — “passive aggressive” and no-one likes to be living or working with someone who has that way of seeing the world.
So, I propose there is an “I” in team — it’s the leader and s/he has a noble, honorable responsibility to lead and lead well — there is a time and place for autocratic, democratic and laissez faire leadership. An excellent team leader knows how to adjust their style to what team needs and for what period of time they need it for.