Be the Leader Others Want You to Be

How do you build a team when the team leader never participates in any team building training with the team? In fact, when the team leader is asked if he or she plans to attend the training, the response is something like; “I don’t need that. That training is for the team members. I already know how a team is supposed to work”. These are the kinds of comments I heard at a recent team building workshop I attended. Some participants were concerned that the workshop, while very informative and practical, might not have any impact on their office team, because the administrators view training for everyone else except the administrators. The inference being that the administrators perceive themselves as above the need for training because they have already arrived at that level of functioning.

While I don’t know how accurate this inference really is, it did cause me to reflect upon the work of James Kouzes and Barry Posner described in The Leadership Challenge. This book describes five practices of exemplary leadership, which are; Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. If I assume for now that the inference about administrators is accurate, I believe the first and second practices are being violated by the team leaders.

The first practice, “Model the Way”, is all about saying what you mean and behaving congruently with what is said. As a leader, we earn credibility with everything we say and do. We demonstrate our leadership credibility by practicing our personal values and aligning what we say about those values with what we do. If our actions do not match what we say, then our followers are going to question our credibility and have less commitment to our leadership.

In the workshop example just described, the participants said that their leaders encouraged them to attend the team building training because everyone needs to be continually learning and growing. My interpretation of that statement is that the one of the leaders’ values would be that personal and professional growth and development is a good thing. Therefore, individuals should identify and participate in learning opportunities that will enhance the work of the team, resulting in a stronger more effective team. This is a value I hear a lot in my work. Most would probably agree that this is a very worthy value for a leader to espouse. However, if the leader does not match these words and support the value by modeling team building, his or her followers may question whether the leader has any integrity and can be counted on to practice other stated values. The leader’s credibility decreases and the followers’ commitment to the team is reduced.

If you are a leader and want to build a high performing team it will start with you, as the leader. If you believe that team building training is an important aspect to building that team, then you, as the leader, need to participate in that team building training. If you have said that the team members need training because continual personal and professional development is important to the team, then you need to be a part of that training as well. As a leader, you need to “Model the Way”.

The second practice of exemplary leadership is “Inspire a Shared Vision”. This practice is all about having a vision and being able to communicate it to the followers in such a way that they want to be a part of that vision. Followers will want to share in the vision because it appeals to their desires and aspirations. If being a high performing team is a part of the vision, then the leader must describe what that looks like and how it would function. In the process of inspiring others to be a part of the team, it seems to me, that the leader could go a long way to inspiring others by demonstrating what team behavior looks like and participating with the team in the team activities.

Therefore, attending and participating in the team building workshop could be a great way to inspire the followers to own the vision of a team. Participating as one of the team would result in team members understanding what a team is and having commitment to making the team more effective. By “Modeling the Way” and “Inspiring a Shared Vision”, you, as a leader, are performing at a level that Kouzes and Posner call exemplary leadership. You are the type of leader that most individuals want to follow.

Until next time, think about what you say and how you behave and the impact it has on others. And be the leader that others want you to be.