If you are a student of leadership, if you have aspirations of leading one day or perhaps are currently leading either a leadership team or some other team within your company you should weigh carefully the following discussion. As the old saying goes "the clothes say much about the person" so too does the character and makeup of your team. Now before you cry foul because you did not pick your team but had it given to you or some variation thereof, you need to understand the same principles apply. But more about that shortly.
Your team says as much about you as anything else in your life. Some leaders look for team members that will follow direction and not push back. Other leaders will choose teams that get along and see the world the same way they do, we call this the "old boys club." Other leaders choose teams that will make them look good, otherwise known as the "pedestal" - all support, and all in the background. And finally, to be fair some leaders don't have any agenda conscious or otherwise for their team they just fly by the seat of their pants. Be sure about one thing the character of the team speaks volumes about the character of its leader - every time - without fail.
None of us come into leadership brimming with confidence that we have all the answers (ok some might but they typically don't last too long). Someone who intrinsically is unsure of their leadership may choose teams that won't outshine them. Their thinking is what if that person does a way better job and catches the attention of my boss? Its not that they are deliberately trying to undermine the goals for the team they just don't feel comfortable with the idea that they may have competition in the group. Sometimes the team senses this and sometimes not but people looking at the team from the outside will see it.
Some leaders will surround themselves with friends and confidants. Everyone speaks the same language, see the company the same way and they exude a certain unity to be sure. The downside of this type of team is that they are rather homogenous in their outlook and often will lack innovation or imagination. If they are a team among many teams in a company or department they will perform fairly well but may also cover for each others weaknesses and seek to lay fault with another team when things don't go as planned. Being on that team is comfortable but rarely ground breaking.
And some leaders will surround themselves with a cast of supporting characters whose only role is to ensure the light remains firmly on the leader. They all carry out their roles because poor performance will reflect poorly on the leader but when it comes to kudos, those go to the leader first. We see it on many teams be they business or sports, the "I am the superstar" mentality that says "you are on this team to pass me the ball so that I can score the touchdowns." Most of us can bring to mind either being on one of those teams or knowing some poor soul who was. Funny thing is a lot of the time team members think it is only a matter of time until the brass or the board see through the hype - sometimes they do, often they don't. Very often long before anyone has figured it out the "superstar" has moved onto either a new team or company leaving their old team to pick up the pieces.
If you study the really enduring leaders and how they formed their teams you will glean several key traits that are common to many of them. They are first and foremost intentional about the team they are pulling together or developing - they have a vision of what that team needs to look like and how it ought to behave. They will pick for strength every time and are not the least bit timid about hiring or developing talent on the team that far surpasses their own. They will select for diversity. They will want a diversity of perspectives and skills on their team knowing that the sometimes messy interplay of those traits can produce some truly genuine innovation. In many of the findings I have researched these leaders make no bones about the fact that they saw their role as nurturing the potential leaders on the team, many in fact stating that they saw it as part of their role - to work themselves out of a job so to speak.
It may be occurring to you that this seems mighty counter intuitive and you would be right if you looked at leadership on a team simply as a career advancing move. What sets these enduring leaders apart is that the thing that drove them was not at all their own career advancement but the advancement of the company and its mission. They worked tirelessly for that goal alone and all the actions that impact the team and its makeup come from that driving passion.
So let's answer that nagging question that went through your mind at the outset of this discussion, what if I inherited or was given this team? What then? The answer to that is at once both simple and challenging. You get the opportunity to mold that team into something special. It is for you to look at your team and "mine out the nuggets of wisdom and skill" from its members and create a milieu that will allow for diversity and innovation and leave room for excellence to flourish.
Every team has that potential, so whether you create it or inherit it your team will be a reflection of the depth and character of your leadership. The next time you walk into the room with your team, take a hard look around and ask yourself the question; What does this team say about my leadership? If you don't like what you see, what are you prepared to do about it?