What’s Behind Every Successful Leader? The Team. The Team. The Team.

“All leadership writing depends on the dubious premise that an entity was successful because a person was in charge, rather than while they were in charge. The ‘halo effect’ is the name given to the tendency for a positive impression in one area to lead to a positive impression in another.”

That observation is from a recent column by Bartleby in The Economist about what lessons we can learn from the manager of the team that wins this year’s World Cup. Bartleby notes the standard concepts – “team spirit, data, purpose, and stars” – contribute to the goal of winning the golden trophy. As Bartleby notes, only one manager, Vittorio Pozzo of Italy, has ever won back-to-back Cup titles. So what role does the manager play?

Success?

Whether they are called managers or coaches depending upon their sport, those who succeed are leaders first and foremost. Yes, they manage the details, but more importantly, they get players to believe in themselves. Such cohesion is essential in international competitions where players come from different pro teams. What we can learn from winning managers in sports – as well as in for-profit and nonprofit enterprises – is that confidence matters.

Good leaders get the players to believe in themselves as individuals and teammates. When that occurs, people pull together – not because the boss says so, but because they want to. It may be hard to keep them from work. What unites them is team purpose, a belief in the mission, and confidence in their ability to perform as a unit.

Pulling together

The benefits of such cohesion are not simply results but positive behavior change. Work is hard and can be dreary, but when employees are engaged (to use an old buzzword), they want to come to work. Why? Because they want to participate with their colleagues in something greater than themselves.

Mistakes will occur, but when people pull together as a unit, there is a collective disposition that addresses problems not in a “gotcha” manner but in a “teach me” manner. 

As Patrick Lencioni writes in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal.” Such a sentiment is the core concept of psychological safety, an idea pioneered by Amy Edmondson that dictates that people can contribute when they feel valued.

Yes, the leader matters, of course, but as Bartley argues – and common sense dictates – it is the team’s performance that matters more. This approach may be why well-liked managers do not always succeed. What matters more is respect. That emotion comes from the feeling that what we do matters and that we can achieve our intended results as individuals and as a team. 

Leaders enkindle a spirit within their followers that pushes them to want to achieve, not simply for themselves but for the team’s good. When that occurs, the organization achieves its mission. 

Note: The phrase, “the team, the team, the team,” was a favorite of Bo Schembechler who coached Michigan football from 1969 to 1989.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 12.13.2022