Leadership – Some opening thoughts

In thinking and writing about leadership, there is a great challenge to not overgeneralize. What is leadership? What does effective leadership look like and do? These questions and others are important to think about. For this reflection, let’s think about some characteristics related to effective team leadership. There are a few things which are generally true: listening is important; presence is a must; common purpose is essential; and using and focusing on one’s strengths and gifts is usually most effective. These are interrelated characteristics which, together, help reinforce the importance of collaboration in team leadership.

Listening is important

In order to discern what is going on, one has to listen. This means listening to oneself, others, the larger context, organization and marketplace. It also means being able to practice active listening. This includes engaging in conversation and asking clarifying questions to figure out what has happened, what might happen and what is hoped for going forward.

Presence is a must

To lead requires presence. In leadership, the one(s) leading needs to be engaged with their team, attune to the larger context, listening, active, learning and participating. They also need to be encouraging their team, pointing out teaching moments and helping the team grow into its particular strengths and gifts. This can only happen though through an awareness that is built by being present to witness, participate and collaborate.

Common purpose is essential

For collaboration to occur there has to be some unifying larger picture or narrative. This might be a single mission statement, some general values or a sense of vision. Whatever it is, or whichever of these elements exist, needs to point to a common purpose that is able to unify, inform and allow for the team to be effective. Without some sense of purpose, a team and leadership will never reach their potential because their outcomes and purpose are muddled.

Using and focusing on one’s strengths and gifts is usually most effective

If one is aware of what their strengths are, and the strengths of the different people on the team around them, they have a higher likelihood of not only being able to play to them, but also to be most effective in leadership. For example, it makes sense that if one of your team members is gifted with numbers and enjoys working with them, you would take every opportunity to allow that team member to do what they enjoy and are good at. You would not want to put someone on your team in a situation where they are not likely to succeed. It is not good for them, it is not good for you and it is not good for your team. Leadership in this way is about awareness, team building and collaboration.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means. Rather, this is merely a starting place for contemplating leadership, sharing our perspectives and furthering the conversation. What do you think? What are general or essential characteristics for effective team leadership and collaboration?

Sources and Suggested Resources

Peter Drucker, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization, (San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass, 2008). ISBN: 978-0470-22756-5.

Tom Rath & Barry Conchie, Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams and Why People Follow, (New York, NY: Gallup Press, 2008). ISBN: 978-1-59562-025-5.

Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski & Betty Sue Flowers, Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future, (New York, NY: Crown Business, 2004). ISBN: 978-0-385-51630-3.