Creative Leadership

Team Leadership: You’re Doing it Wrong

I’ve recently been speaking at conferences on some of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen out there when it comes to “team leadership.”  It’s very popular right now, but for many organizations, it’s popular for the wrong reasons.  I know, because I’m a people person. There’s nothing I like better than to get our team at Cooke Media Group around a table to brainstorm, and develop ideas for our projects and clients.  I want to hear their opinion.  On personality profiles like DISC, I’m off the chart when it comes to working with people.  But I’m seeing some troubling trends that indicate many organizations aren’t understanding the concept.  Which leads to perhaps the biggest problem:

We don’t understand what team leadership really is.

Here’s the simple answer:

Teams are for brainstorming and execution.

Leaders make decisions.

Simple as that.  What’s happening today is that too many leaders are afraid to embrace decisions.  Fear of not being liked.  Fear of failure.  Fear of making mistakes.  Insecurity.  There’s a number of reasons.  As a result, they defer the decisions to the group.  But all that happens in this scenario is that the decision devolves into endless discussions, debates, and arguments.   I’ve been in leadership meetings that lasted for 12 hours because they couldn’t arrive at a decision.  (No surprise there.)

Turn to your team for ideas, brainstorming, research, opinions, and more.  Develop a killer team of brilliant people.   But when it comes to making a real decision, nothing takes the place of genuine leadership.  Once that decision is made, a great team is brilliant at execution.

In military terms, a great team can figure out how to take the hill.  But someone has to decide which hill to take.

Don’t give up your role as being a strong decision maker.

I’d love to know if you’ve experienced a situation like this…..

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14 Comments

  1. Couldn’t agree more. And sometimes it’s better to make a wrong [or less than ideal] decision than no decision at all.

    It’s impossible to please everyone. Someone needs to be willing to stand up for the decision, lead the charge and deal with the critics. Those who are on board will rally and those who aren’t need to find a different army to join.

  2. I’m currently struggling with breaking through to the next level of leadership. I love people, I am a complete people person and I don’t want to offend them or come across to strong and it is crippling my leadership and ultimately my team.

    I heard you speak @create2011:disqus and you shared some great points along this same line, I’m still processing it and trying to take actionable steps in that direction. It seems like a bit of an uphill battle for many reasons, battling against my personality. But I desire nothing else but to be a good leader.

    Phil, how did you, or what did you do to start to marry your strengths with people with the more direct and potential “controversial” actions that were needed for you to lead your teams?

    1. Great question Travis.  I actually took a DISC profile a number of years ago which really helped me understand how I was wired.  Knowing that, I stopped fighting my wiring and started building a team that complimented my own strengths and weaknesses.  I don’t think we can really change our personalities, but I DO think being aware of our strengths and weaknesses makes a dramatic difference in the way we lead.

      1. That is helpful because I am at the point where I am wondering if personality type can ever make a great leader. I believe that it can, but I am not seeing the reality of this right now. I am going to look into the DISC profile and start learning and practicing how to lead toward my strengths.

  3. Good team members will be more bold in sharing ideas that are risky because they trust a good leader to make a quality decision.

  4. This is a great post and very timely for me. Phil, how do you start to transform a team that is used to consensus decision making into one that ultimately trusts your decisions as a leader?

  5. great post, so many times people tend to want to be so inclusive they are afraid to make decisions. Something I have had to tell actors, writers of shows(stage plays in particular) my job as a leader is to look at things three dimensionally, while you are looking at it two dimensionally. This is normally said with kindness and sincerity  but  the truth is if no one makes a decision chaos or long meeting will happen. I once sat back in a production meeting and let everyone just talk and argue over one scene of a show, we sat there for an hour. Eventually someone said lets do it this way, they tried it and all of a sudden the next scene did not make sense anymore.  There has to be one leader, like Phil said the team is suppose to brain storm and execute ideas.

  6. Thanks for the post. You have really confirmed my conviction on team leadership.

    There was a time when I often gave away all of my leadership responsibilities to the team because I thought if I don’t, I am acting selfish and that they would leave me! But after sometime, I learned I was doing wrong and I started doing what I was supposed to do as a leader. And the fun thing is, those who didn’t like it left me! But I am happy that now I am working towards building up a new team with the right team leadership principles. And here comes your post!

    Thanks once again.

  7. Good stuff.  I see this happening frequently, good intentioned people who just don’t have the strength, courage or giftedness to make the hard decisions AND lead people through the consequences of those decisions.

    It is easy to hide behind “team”, but it takes a leader to make a decision and then follow up that decision with solid implementation.

  8. Yep Phil spot on. I went through a season of being ‘overconsultitive’ and non executive and it just led to frustration and positional jockeying within the team. I think the causes are a misguided sense of fairness (these guys sow their lives in so they deserve to make some decisions) and also insecurity in the leader (I fell into it after a spectacular failure of vision) Harness the team and have fun brainstorming, then make the decisions that need to be made, without fear, without favor.
    Blessings Chris Mulhare

  9. Thanks for this reminder Phil. If I am honest, in my own realm of leadership I can be just as guilty of spending too much time pouring over a decision with my team rather than just making the decision. More often than not, it just causes more problems and a good decision is rarely made this way. Thanks for the timely reminder!

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