Are successful leaders of small teams suited to the most senior positions in Corporate business? Too darned right they are. These people are perfect fits.
Like many others, I used to think of successful business leaders as being big characters: ebullient, confident, domineering. These are the noisy superstars of the corporate world: men (nearly always men) charging through life dragging their organisations behind them.
It’s a paradigm that many of us feel instinctively needs to change. As a specialist team coach, I have always been certain that the people who successfully lead “high performing teams” fit a very different model to the corporate megastars.
The best don’t set themselves above their team members. Instead they are fundamental parts of the group and they work from the inside. These are often relatively quiet but driven people, determined to achieve mission success and absolutely clear about their objectives, but also listeners and co-operators.
This kind of leadership provides calm guidance and assured decision making and it does so
by playing a direct and practical role in the team’s activities. Good Team Leaders do “real” work.
They share the practical realities experienced by their fellows; they set their shoulders to the same wheel; they are quick to offer help and equally quick to seek support. Most of all their natural inclination is to place the credit on those around them. “It wasn’t me; the team made it work.” These are the people whose organisations achieve that strange effect when the output begins greatly to exceed the sum of its parts.
For a long time I was perplexed about these 2 very different leadership caricatures.
My instinct was always to think that the quiet team leader should also be the corporate success story, but, all too often, I heard it said that a classically successful team leader lacks the necessary grip and aggression required to command large organisations. Such people, it was implied, are simply not suitable to rise to the top of the corporate pile.
Why this idea was wrong finally became clear to me when I re-discovered the concept of “Type 5 Leadership”, something I had first come across in Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great”. (I strongly recommend this 2001 classic if you don’t already know it).
The Team who developed the concepts behind “Good to Great” analysed the success only of those US corporates that had routinely out-performed their peers for a period of 15 years or more.
These were outstanding companies that had not only risen to the top, but stayed there. Perhaps the most fundamental reason that Collins and his researchers identified for these enduring successes was the inevitable presence of a “Type 5 leader”.
I found Collins’ description of this kind of person deeply revealing: “Level 5 leaders display a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will. They're incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the cause, for the organization and its purpose, not themselves. While Level 5 leaders can come in many personality packages, they are often self-effacing, quiet, reserved, and even shy. Every good-to-great transition in our research began with a Level 5 leader who motivated the enterprise more with inspired standards than inspiring personality.”
After reading that it all made much more sense to me. This Type 5 leader is in every way the same person as the successful head of a High Performing Team.
Of course the Type 4 leaders, the big ebullient (men), have a vital role to play. Ego, energy and determination certainly bring them huge success and their names are etched daily on the business pages. But to me the lesson, by no means new, is that organisations should be seeking out their great team leaders and aiming them up the ladder. For real success, look beyond the loud, the domineering and the self-centred.
James Hall is a retired soldier, a business consultant and a certified UpAGear Team Coach. Linkedin Profile