Entrepreneurs and Effective Team Leadership…

Posted: November 18, 2012 by Chuck Matthews in Leadership, People, Planning, Startup

“Teamwork is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” Anonymous

The debate over whether leaders are born or bred continues unabated.  While social science research tends to dismiss the notion of trait based leadership, the allure of the prospect that leadership resides within the individual pulls the conversation back and forth. Indeed, the leadership conversation swirls around cognitive and applied aspects of effective leaders.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the leadership of teams and more critical than when those teams are engaged in the development, launch, success and survival of small, entrepreneurial, and family owned ventures.

While the debate continues, there is general agreement that leaders are key in the creation, development, and effective use of teams.  Entrepreneurs as leaders articulate a vision often born out of creativity, invention, and/or innovation that others don’t immediately see.  As a result, they must facilitate a shared understanding and often come to rely on a team to accomplish his or her goals. Let’s take a look at the importance of leadership in forming effective teams, three elements of effective team leadership and what it takes to lead a team to achieve uncommon results.

Teams Don’t Just Happen

The nexus of leadership and teams is an interesting intersection.  It is not unlike the schoolyard ritual of “selecting a team” for a pick-up game of a sport.  Two “leaders” are tacitly agreed upon by the larger group as the best choice, to pick a team.  They are often seen as charismatic and/or transformational leaders, often due to a skill at the sport.  They survey the landscape and build on their vision of what will comprise the best team.  Their first choices often immediately become part of the decision making process and so on until a team is formed around the leader’s now shared vision.  Although this is an example of a temporary team, it illustrates the importance of how teams are formed and suggests that what is effective at early team formation may not be effective as a team matures.

In general, three core elements emerge around effective team leadership in small and entrepreneurially focused ventures: creating a common goal; coping with change; and charting a course for the future.

The Three C’s to a Common Goal – Communication, Competence, and Collaboration. Having a vision and a goal in mind is one thing, communicating a clear and coherent message is quite another.  Effective team leadership is about inspiring others to a common cause, establishing and building trust (both in yourself and others), and instilling a drive toward excellence.  Effective leadership identifies the needed competencies both within oneself and in the team and builds a collaborative environment.  There needs to be room for discussion, even spirited debate, but in the end leadership must provide the coherence.

The Big “C” – Change.   One of my favorite anecdotes about change is attributed to two of my favorite Cincinnati Reds baseball players, Hall of Famer Tony Perez and recent Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Barry Larkin.  At his HOF induction, Larkin recounted expressing dismay over several adjustments suggested by hitting coach and mentor Perez.  Larkin said he was uncomfortable with the changes, to which Perez replied, “You want to be comfortable, go home and sit on the couch. You aren’t getting paid to be comfortable, you are getting paid to hit.”  Larkin made the changes resulting in a Hall of Fame career and leading his team to great success. Times and teams change and leaders must recognize how change is essential to moving forward.

Effective team leaders work constantly toward reducing team member’s doubts, fears, and anxieties; set high standards; facilitate an environment for open discussion; and provide positive, constructive, timely, evaluation, review, and feedback. Effective team leadership is not achieved in an unrelenting quest for perfection, but rather the identification of team’s collective power to effect positive change.

Charting a Course for the Future

What lies ahead for effective team leadership?  Economic pressures, advances in technology, social media engagement, and more have altered the traditional perspectives and practices of the dynamic leader and team. The future course of effective team leadership will need to acknowledge and address this new nexus.

Baseball legend Casey Stengel, who knew a thing or two about effective team leadership, once quipped, “It’s easy to get good players.  Getting them to play together, that’s the hard part.” The “Old Perfessor” as he became known, sums it up well. Till next time, all the best for continued entrepreneurial success!

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