A Case for Team Leadership

Two predominant leadership styles are solo leadership and team leadership. Which of these are most effective? Solo leadership is focused on the leader and a top down organization. This seems to be the default for aspiring leaders and driven leaders who want control. It is expedient and often necessary for startups. However there is great long term value in team leadership. This article will explore the advantages of team leadership and build a case for this style of leadership.

Limitations of Solo Leadership

One limitation of solo leadership is unrealistic expectations of the leader. Organizations often expect their leader to be everything and do everything. This is particularly true for the pastor of a church. When leaders cannot meet all these expectations, there is frustration for both the leader and the organization. Along with this is a greater risk of burnout by the leader. When the leader attempts to do everything, he runs the risk of burning out. Another limitation is that the organization is limited to the individual capacity of the leader. Leadership expert John Maxwell calls this the law of the lid. The organization cannot rise above the level of the leader. A final limitation is that success is often short term. Without consensus, quick untested decisions lead to short term success.

Value of Team Leadership

Now let’s turn our attention to the value of team leadership. There is strength in shared responsibility. Often the leadership load is too heavy for one person to carry. A leader can find strength by sharing the responsibility with others. There is also a synergy in complimentary gifts and skills. The combined strength of gifts and skills is often greater than each of them individually. This obviously requires the ability to recognize the gifts of others and how to blend them for the common good. The Leading From Your Strengths profile is a great tool to help in this process. Team leadership provides an opportunity for more accountability. The team leader as well as the team members can hold each other accountable. Another benefit of team leadership is that the millennial generation responds best to a collaborative style of leadership. Developing younger leaders is an essential part of building an organization. The collaborative and engaging nature of team leadership seems to fit best with emerging leaders. The old system of ‘command and control’ – using carrots and sticks – to exert power over people is fast being replaced by ‘connect and collaborate’ – to generate power through people.

Obstacles to Team Leadership 

With all these advantages of team leadership, what are some obstacles to adopting a team approach? Often the ego of the leader is the problem. Solo leaders with a strong ego are often reluctant to share leadership with others because they don’t trust others or think they are good enough. Solo leaders who are insecure are reluctant to share leadership with others because they may show them up. Resistance to change is also an obstacle to team leadership. We tend to like to keep things the way they were. It takes time and effort to change.Team leadership can also be messy and time consuming.

Pitfalls of Team Leadership

Patrick Lencioni in his outstanding book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, describes a progression of  how teams can become ineffective. The first sign of dysfunction is the absence of trust. Lencioni explains that trust is not the ability of team members to predict one another’s behaviors because of long term relationships. Rather when it comes to teams, trust is all about vulnerability. Without trust there is a fear of conflict. This is open and honest debate of issues and decisions. Without unfiltered conflict, there is a lack of commitment. This is genuine buy-in around important decisions that are key to the organizations’s success. Without commitment, there is an avoidance of accountability. Team members hesitate to hold one another accountable for adhering to agreed upon decisions and standards. Finally without accountability, there is inattention to results.  Team members focus on their individual needs and agendas rather than what is best for the team.

If we can avoid these pitfalls, we can build a healthy, effective team. Teams that trust one another, engage in healthy conflict, commit to decisions, and hold one another accountable are very likely to set aside their individual needs and agendas and focus almost exclusively on what is best for the team.

For further information on building effective ministry teams, visit effectiveministryteams.com

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