Leadership, by its nature, is an isolating enterprise. And while leadership can be a lonely state of being, too many in leadership come to believe that a leader needs to stand apart, and sometimes to stand alone. But effective leadership in any systems is more about staying connected and making connections. .
Recent conversations with leaders have involved several asking questions, and help, about how they can better tap into their “leadership team” for providing leadership. As one leader put it, “I don’t think I can do this by myself anymore.” I think this is a good sign, and a positive step away from notions of personified leadership—–those beliefs that see leadership as inherent in an individual, or, in a personality “type” or “style,” a notion that misses the insight that leadership is a function and product of the system one is in (see The Hidden Lives of Congregations). That means that leadership is about building and maintaining relationships in the system—staying connected.
Mature and self-assured leaders understand that they cannot do leadership in isolation. The most effective leaders solicit leadership from those around them. The dilemma for many leaders with staff seems to be how to turn a team (a staff, board, or committee) of followers into a team of leaders. This is a big challenge because, let’s be realistic, in most systems there will always be more followers than leaders. Most people in an organization do not want the responsibility that comes with leadership (although that won’t keep them from offering their views on how things should be run).
My experience of leadership groups that are effective includes the following characteristics shared among all the members of the group:
- Clarity about and commitment to the mission
- A shared corporate value related to the work and mission (e.g., a “no excuses” mentality, a commitment to excellence)
- The ability to set the priority for the welfare of the institution while setting aside personal predilections, preferences, and convenience
- An understanding that it is not enough to say something needs to be done—it actually needs to be done and they are the ones who do it
- A high level of trust and honesty among the members, allowing for honest conversations, mutual accountability, and challenges toward higher functioning
- An acceptance that leadership means one must lead.
I often hear leaders known for their effectiveness and success say, “I just know how to surround myself with good people.” The move from personified leadership to team leadership is a good one. Fortunate is the leader who can surround him or herself with good people. Most of us, I suspect, will not inherit ready-made leaders on a team or staff, we’ll need to cultivate them. As with anything associated with the dynamic of “leadership” it is (1) hard to do, and (2) takes a long time.
Below are three must-read resources on shared team leadership:
From, Perspectives on Congregational Leadership: Applying Systems Theory for Effective Leadership, by Israel Galindo. See the new Perspectives on Congregational Leadership blog site.