Leading Effective Teams: Leading the Team

Last week we looked at principles for building teams.  Once the team has been established, the work of leading the team begins. Leading the team involves everything necessary to move the team forward toward the completion of its objective or its raison d’etre. Just as noted above in the discussion concerning building the team, prayer continues to be an essential ingredient in successful team building and management. A constant focus and dependence on the Lord is an essential ingredient to effective team leadership, even among Christian leaders in secular institutions (although that focus may not be as overtly expressed in these situations).

In addition to a consistent and intense focus on the Lord, leading teams effectively requires humility. The leader must understand his limitations and approach team leadership with an appropriate estimation of himself and a firm understanding of what he brings to the team dynamic (Romans 12:3, ESV). Secondly, the leader must foster an environment conducive to trust, which Patrick Lencioni calls an essential component of effective teams. Once established, the leader must then lead in such a way as to support the continuation of that established trust. This involves being fair and consistent in the way he treats team members and being willing to self-evaluate before entering into conflict resolution with team members, which will be discussed in more detail later.

Similarly, leading a team effectively requires that the leader be what Brian Simmons, Associate Provost at Columbia International University calls, REAL (Relational, an Example, an Authority, and Loving). The leader must be relational to the members of her team. She must view them as fellow humans and co-workers instead of mere subjects to be managed and directed. She should also be willing to lead by example. In other words, she should not give a directive or lead the team in a direction in which she would not be willing to go herself.

Thirdly, she must understand the parameters of and how to appropriately wield her given authority. While humans are designed to work in teams, we are also designed to function within a hierarchy. In other words, from the very beginning we see God establishing a hierarchy of roles among humanity (Genesis 2, ESV). We are all equally valuable as human beings but we have been entrusted with various roles and authorities and the effective leader must understand her authority and wield it compassionately yet effectively. The Apostle Peter illustrates this concept well in 1 Peter 5:2-3. Although he is directly addressing pastors (shepherds) in this passage, the principles are still quite applicable to all leaders.

This leads well into the final characteristic of effective team leadership, love. Teams must be lead from a position of love and compassion. This does not mean the team grabs shoulders and sings “Kum-ba-yah” but it does mean that the team leader cares for her team members as individuals and leads in such a way that demonstrates concern for their well-being as image bearers of God (Matt. 22:39, ESV). As she focuses on being a REAL leader, the team leader will inevitably foster that previously discussed environment of trust which, as Lencioni suggests, is the sine qua non of an effective team.