Five Ways To Lead An Imperfect Team

pic for 5 leadership sneak peaks

Beginning with my MBA days, I have been intrigued with the differences between management and leadership. Since John P. Kotter, retired professor at Harvard Business School, shared his transformative insights about the separate roles that management and leadership play, professionals have been cultivating deep discussions of which is more important. We know that not all managers make great leaders and not all leaders make great managers. The key is to invest in our strengths and embrace the fact they many of us are a member of or are leading imperfect teams.

So why must leaders accept the team they are given? The answer is simple: most of our teams are filled with people who care and want to do a good job. Presumably they were hired for their strong skills and may be having a difficult time navigating the different personalities on the team or tackling the more challenging assignments. Although the team may resemble the “island of the misfit toys”, it is not hopeless.

I work with imperfect teams all the time- some more imperfect than others. Some teams possess better managers and some teams have true leaders. Regardless, it is helpful to reframe our perspective a bit and instead of looking at imperfection as a pure negative, see imperfection as an opportunity to lead a change.

Here are five ways to transform an imperfect team:


While managers set goals and monitor deadlines, leaders set a future for their team. They focus on where they want to go and why they want to pursue a certain path. Every decision should incorporate the vision and each action should help the vision come alive. Involving the leadership in developing the vision is essential to its success and acceptance.


Not only do leaders set the path forward, but they also need to sell it. It might seem strange to use the word, “sell”, yet selling is influencing. The concept of selling our ideas to one another was brilliantly described in Daniel Pink’s book, “To Sell Is Human”. Leaders sell their vision, mission and values through their words, behaviors and attitudes.


Whether we are a team member or oversee a team, leaders understand the importance of playing to each person’s talents and strengths. Each individual on the team is capable of making valuable contributions and the key to making sure that happens is discovering those gifts. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • It doesn’t take a lot of time to have coffee or even lunch with a team member, so reach out and make it happen
  • Ask how things are going and how they see their world of work
  • Find out what other untapped resources they may not be using on the job
  • Listen to their dreams and challenges


Become a cheerleader of change by motivating and energizing everyone around you. Be positive in the direction the team is moving by showing gratitude for all the hard work and meaningful contributions. Set the example of offering praise and giving credit when due. Make people feel valuable.


The greatest gift a leader can give is to cultivate a culture of mentoring partnerships. These magical relationships will not only provide learning and growth but will also foster deeper working connections. Sharing our stories and mistakes we made along the way, empowers team members to dream and take risks as well.

What other insights can you share to lead an imperfect team?



8 thoughts on “Five Ways To Lead An Imperfect Team

  1. Excellent piece, Terri! I’ve seen many leaders come into a new leadership position and almost immediately make changes (aka fire key players and bring in new people.) We may inherit our teams, but that means that we just need to call forth on our leadership – not fit them in a box of good or bad.

    I once was on a new leadership team and we wanted the time to meet everyone, have 1x1s, understand who they are, strengths, challenges and get thier insights as we formulated our go-forward plan. Unfortuantely, the senior team above us thought that was not time well spent.

    Thanks, Terri!

  2. You make some great points, Alli! When we do become part of a new team, we need to take some time to see what is going well and what needs to be adjusted. Also one team should never be compared to another team.

    I love the idea of of getting to know everyone’s gifts through one on ones and I agree that is time well spent. Leadership is all about building deeply connected and respectful relationships and that means spending time with our team members.

    I appreciate your insights Alli!

  3. I agree Karin that both sets of skills are critical to lead teams. What I have been finding is that teams are more often over-managed and under-led so that team members don’t always feel valued.

    Leadership centers around relationship building and visioning, while management focuses a great deal on scheduling and execution. Finding that balance is essential.

    Thanks for your wonderful comments!

  4. Great article, Terri. There is NO such thing as a perfect team!

    Love this: “Each individual on the team is capable of making valuable contributions and the key to making sure that happens is discovering those gifts.”

    It takes hard work sometimes to dig down and uncover a person’s strengths, but we all have them…and then helping them to learn how to manage their weaknesses…

    Your teams are very lucky to have you as their coach!

  5. You are so right LaRae, a perfect team does not exist!

    It does take time and effort to learn about each person’s talents and gifts. When we are on a team that we need to live with but seems a bit dysfunctional, it can really help to build trust and relationships by getting to know each other more deeply. I have found that asking people what untapped talents of theirs aren’t being shared in the workplace can be great for both the team and the individual. Helping others to discover what they are really good at is so empowering.

    Thanks LaRae for your wonderful additions and support!

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