Team Leaders have it tough

The ‘hero leader’ is an old-fashioned notion that is still perpetuated in places by good actors who put on that show, and by people around them who would like them to be heroes to solve their problems. Even the Nobel Prize committee is looking to award prizes to teams, not individuals because achievement is never the work of just one person.

Sure, some leaders are intrinsically better at leading than others, but it also depends on the hand they’re dealt.  As the bridge between intention and implementation, Team Leaders and Managers have it tough.  They often need to handle difficulties, such as:

  1. Team, organization and other changes within their organization
  2. Pressure from the organization to deliver results within legal, time, budgetary and other restrictions
  3. Low levels of upwards influence
  4. Less help from their peers or seniors than they might feel they need
  5. A lack of understanding or knowledge in the team
  6. A lack of training or leadership experience themselves.

But others are quick to criticize them from the side-lines before seeing the whole picture.

  •  “They don’t seem to be asking the right questions upwards.”
  • “I wonder if they really have a grasp of the requirements.”
  • “They are hiding behind tasks and processes rather than building relationships.”

These statements are hardly validated, yet can be made to sound completely justified, simply by combining a sophisticated rationale with a self-assured tone of voice:

  • “They’re just not a good fit.”
  •  “They don’t have the people-network to get the job done.”
  • “Their direct reports don’t’ look very comfortable – I don’t think it’s working out.”

 The reason I sound so sympathetic towards the Team Leader / Manager is because there are more ‘collaboration-based’ reasons for the under-performance of teams that you hear less frequently:

“Maybe the shared understanding of the role expectations wasn’t clear enough.”

  • “I think the circumstances have changed, and the requirements drifted with them.”
  • “Her team needs up-skilling before they’ll be able to deliver as we need them to.”

In addition to their own boss or sponsor, a Team Leader has their own ‘peer’ team around them too – partners from support functions, other departments, stakeholders….

The question I think we could ask more often is, how is the ‘peer’ team around this Team Leader / Manager understanding their needs and enabling them to do a great job?  Now, that would be teamwork, wouldn’t it?

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