Changing the Way We Think About Leadership to Unlock the Full Potential of Teams 

What makes a good leader? This is an important question for all teams to think about. Especially now, when the world is rapidly changing and new ways of working are emerging, and when new paths forward need to be forged, leadership on teams is more important than ever.

As a team building company, we at Invite Japan always stress the way that teams harness the combined skills of its members to achieve great things. This involves communication and teamwork. But it also requires good leadership to bring everyone together and on the same page.  

However, when people think of leadership, we often think of people in positions of power–management or people who are given tasks or responsibilities. In this way, leadership tends to be confused with authority or strength. What we want to stress here in this blog post is that actually everyone can become a leader, and that teams should be focused on expanding and inspiring leadership as widely as possible. 

So in this blog post we will delve into the topic of leadership. This will be the first part in a series on different aspects of leadership and how to nurture it on your team. In this first part, we’ll give an introduction that explains some ways to think about leadership on teams, and some of the actions that make for good leaders. 

Defining leadership

To give ourselves an idea to work off of when it comes to leadership, we will define leadership as follows: 

“Leaders direct, guide, and influence the behavior and work of others towards the accomplishment of specific goals in a given situation.”

Keep this definition in mind as we go into the specific aspects of leadership throughout the rest of this post.

Important aspects of leadership to consider 

As we mentioned above, sometimes leadership gets wrapped up in old ways of thinking about leaders–as simply people who have power and authority, or who are naturally “strong”. In the following, we pose some guiding principles to help you move away from this sort of hierarchical way of thinking about leadership, and towards a new, more open, and more encompassing vision of what leadership can look like. 

1. Leadership is about qualities, not qualifications

The most important aspect about leadership that teams can learn is that it is not the same as qualifications or positions. Sure, many people have positions that give them certain tasks, responsibilities, or even decision-making powers. But this is different from true leadership. 

Leadership ultimately comes from within, from team members’ own characteristics and abilities. And just because someone doesn’t have an official position as a “leader” doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t become one.

2. There are many different styles and ways to be a leader

That being said, it is important to note that there isn’t one kind of person that is “meant” to be a leader. In our definition above, we didn’t mention any specific characteristics or personality traits. Leaders are capable of influencing and directing others, but there are many ways to actually do this, and the methods may change depending on the characteristics of the team involved.

So there is no “one way” to be a leader. Leadership is many ways about adapting to the circumstances and people around you, and being able to use your own skills to move things forward. This could involve being the person out in front, or it could involve working behind the scenes.

3. Leadership requires other people

Another essential point about leadership is that it requires other people. Leaders are part of the team, and they emerge from it. They are not above it or more important than it. As noted in the definition above, leaders need to be able to influence, guide, and direct. And so really all the power that a leader has comes from those around them. 

This social aspect of leadership is incredibly important on teams. Leaders need to understand their team members, and to listen and communicate with them effectively in order to guide them towards their goals. Forgetting this lesson can easily lead to breakdowns in trust, which can cause teams to flounder when facing challenges or pursuing goals.

4.  Leadership is goal-oriented

Again referring to our working definition of leadership above, leadership is focused on a specific goal. This might seem self-obvious, but there are some very interesting implications of this point that may change how we usually think about leaders. 

The first is that leaders can change. Different goals at different times, just like teams, may require different leaders or different forms of leadership. More creative goals like designing new products may require different skills than goals that are more performance or organization-focused. 

The second is that leaders on teams don’t necessarily remain leaders forever. Once the goal has been completed, leadership has the opportunity to pass onto someone new. Thus, leadership doesn’t need to stay concentrated in the same person or group of people, especially if utilizing other skills or talents will be better at moving the new project or goal forward. 

5. Leadership is about helping other people to become leaders 

Because leadership is not concentrated, and requires change and adaptability, one of the underlying goals of leadership is to help train new leaders. This is really the secret to leadership on teams, and it may seem paradoxical. Why would leaders want to undermine their own authority by training lots of leaders? But this way of thinking is stuck in an older, top-down approach. 

You want to have as broad of a leadership base as possible. You want team members to be able to easily take up leadership positions when the situation calls for it, especially during times of crisis. You want team members who are unafraid of guiding and influencing others in order to achieve new goals. This is what makes teams strong and resilient. 

In order to do this though, leaders have to be constantly seeking to train new leaders on the team. Working with them, mentoring them, and developing those skills of guidance, influence, and direction that will truly make your team capable of adapting to change and charting new courses instinctively.

Conclusion: Leadership on teams 

So rather than assessing leadership based on the qualities of one person or a one group of people, you should be assessing leadership on your team by looking at all your team members. If leadership is widespread, with many potential leaders who can easily take up leadership roles, then you should continue to build on that strong foundation. If not, then we suggest that you work to make leadership more diffuse, and to try to give your whole team the training they need.

Team building can help. At Invite Japan, our team building activities and events are designed to give all team members the chance to use their individual skills and talents, and to lead the rest of the team. Team building also teaches teams how to be more communicative and make decisions under pressure, and how to work towards achieving common goals in a low-stakes environment. Planning regular team building sessions with us will enhance your team’s bonds and help turn your team members into confident leaders. 

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

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