Working with teams over the years, I have learned that leading one isn’t always a piece of cake. I have also learned that the role of leader can shift between team members. In fact, the person with an expertise for a particular project is oftentimes the “anointed” temporary leader. This is a very interesting phenomenon when an informal leader emerges. The individual who started out being team leader might still have the title, but has moved to a different spot on the team. Have you ever experienced a shift in leadership? Have you ever been on a team where there is no leader? Do you think all teams need a leader?
I think all teams need a leader, but not necessarily the same one all the time. Here are four reasons why leaders are critical to a team’s success:
1. Leaders hold tight to the vision: I was recently working on a committee for a non-profit where we were planning an event. We had a lot of heated discussion about the tone and look of the event. Should it be edgy? Should it be solicitous? Who are the stakeholders that we need to reach out to? We needed a leader to iron out the vision and mission. Without that person taking on the leadership role, it would have been impossible to work on the other aspects of the event.
2. Leaders ask the important questions: When we get caught up in our routines while working on a project, we don’t usually take the time to come up for air. That means we need our leader to step back periodically and ask: “How are things going?”; “What is missing?”; “What isn’t working and why?” These essential questions asked at the right times can oftentimes mean the difference between a successful or unsuccessful outcome.
3. Leaders act as liaisons: Our teams do not function in a vacuum as we are usually connected to a larger organization. It is the leader’s responsibility to make sure to keep everyone updated on the progress and the obstacles. If a team doesn’t have a leader and clarification is needed, the team might not get the best information. Leadership can provide that connecting piece.
4. Leaders energize a team to meet deadlines: The truth is that sometimes teams lose steam, unable to motivate themselves to complete a project in the necessary timeframe. Teams need a leader to not only keep track of the completion date, but to cheer them on. It can take a creative activity such as bringing in music or a masseuse to encourage team members and show them they are valued. By rolling up their sleeves and pitching in, leaders model a can-do attitude that can be contagious.
Do you think teams need leaders? How else have you stepped in as leader to attain a great outcome?