Posted by: goalpath | November 18, 2009

Success in Business Requires a Star Team Leader, Not a Team of Stars

A recent article in Psychology Today by Jeff Pearlman, Success: Winners and Losers, gives insight into what it takes to build a world class team. A team of individual stars is not nearly as important as a team with a star leader. In most cases, the star leader is not the most gifted or talented person on the team. Using sports team analogies, the author points to a number of teams that had the most talented players, but still didn’t win championships because the stars of these teams couldn’t forgo their egos in order to become team leaders. The star leader is the guy who inspires his or her team though example and inspiration and not by standing out on their own.

So what are the elements that make up a team leader? These elements include a strong work ethic, humility, a love of pressure, self motivation and selflessness. Surprised? When you think about successful business or political leaders, as well as athletes, your list of traits might not include some of these items. But if you ponder what’s required of a successful leader, you can see that each of these traits is essential to success.

In order to promote team and task cohesion, the leader must inspire every member of the team to rise to a higher level in order to reach the overall goal of the team. Some people have great individual skills, but are so inwardly focused they have a hard time doing what is best for the team and foregoing their own self interests. The true team leaders focus exclusively on how to help the team move forward and that behavior is contagious.  

Work Ethic.  Having a strong work ethic is nearly always contagious, unless you work with a bunch of slugs whose only purpose in life is to collect a check and leave when the clock strikes 5PM.  Now I am not advocating working 60-80 hour weeks, but when there is a project or product launch on the line and the only way to get it finished is by putting in the extra hours, then it is up to the leader to inspire his or her team to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Leaders lead by example.

Humility. This trait should be self explanatory, but to those people with very large egos, it doesn’t make sense. Poor team leaders only want individual recognition and don’t mind stepping on other’s toes to get it. While it should be all about the team, it invariably becomes all about them. They don’t seem to understand that what is best for them is not always best for the team. True leaders should make whatever sacrifices needed to advance the team’s agenda. Period. Great leaders almost always defer the recognition for any accomplishments to their team.

A Love of Pressure. Great leaders seem to love pressure and even thrive on it. The harder the task, the better they like it. With great risk comes great opportunity. You can either let another team take the ball and run with it, or you can pick it up, rally your team behind you or in front of you…and you can all run like hell for the goal. If you look at great leaders in business, government or sports, their greatest achievements came when they had the most to lose.

Self-motivation. This trait comes from within. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, how can anyone else? When everyone else says you can’t achieve your goals, regardless of how improbable they might seem, that is when great leaders dig in and work even harder. To a true leader, the underdog label should just make the impossible seem possible. You can use it as a carrot to make your team work that much harder. If the press or your competitors scoff at your claims, then that should just inspire you and your team to prove them wrong.

Selflessness. This is probably the most important character trait of a real leader. Managers and team leaders who dial back their egos are more likely to get their team to buy into their dream. Business is full of individual stars who can’t give up their egos long enough to help their colleagues rise to the top and achieve the team goal. They want to be the star regardless of the cost. I am sure you have worked with lots of these people at one time or another in your business career.

When I managed large groups of people, I felt compelled to hire the very best staff I could find. While some people feel threatened if they hire someone with more talent, experience and skills than they themselves possess, I feel just the opposite. Some very knowledgeable person told me once that if you want a company of midgets, then that’s who you hire. On the other hand if you want to build a world leader and giant killer in your industry sector, then you need to hire accordingly.

What’s you take on this topic? Have you got any interesting ideas on what it takes to build a world class team?

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