Leadership Development

Leadership Development Has Failed. But There’s a Better Model

We are swamped by leadership advice from countless gurus. In the U.S., we give the leadership development industry more than $24 billion annually. It is the No. 1 category in corporate learning and development spending.

What do we get for all this time and money spent on studying leadership? If the purpose of leadership is to effectuate positive change, the answer is “not much.” According to Deloitte, the return on assets for the U.S. economy has steadily declined since 1965. These days, the mighty stumble daily. In 1958, a company could expect to stay on the S&P 500 list for 61 years. Now the average is just 18 years. Domestic productivity growth averaged only 0.34 percent per year between 2011 and 2015, down 82 percent from the growth experienced between 1990 and 2010.


That’s the business view. Have investments in leadership development resulted in an inspired workforce? Again, the answer is no. The industry that consumes billions of dollars intended to develop leaders has failed the leader, the organization and society. It’s time to boldly say “the emperor has no clothes.” A revolution is forming, presenting you, the learning leader with a big question. Will you lead that revolution, be toppled by it, or just get run over?

Teams Drive Success

A model that clearly outperforms the myth of the “omnipotent hero-leader” already exists. Unfortunately, the hero leader myth has blinded us to what’s right before our eyes. It’s called teaming.

In Western business culture, the concept of the strong leader is held supreme; the team is an afterthought. Yet we venerate the idea of teams in sports. There, we understand that stars are important, but if the team doesn’t act as an integrated unit, success is beyond reach.

A 2016 New York Times article, “What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team,” explains that effective teamwork is a win-win for employees and organizations alike: “people working in teams tend to achieve better results and report higher job satisfaction,” while “profitability increases when workers are persuaded to collaborate more.”

When well-trained, teams are a powerful tool with which to achieve organizational goals. Michael A. West’s book “Effective Teamwork: Practical Lessons from Organizational Research” lists numerous benefits teams can offer:

  1. Teams respond more quickly and effectively in the fast changing and hyper-competitive environment most organizations face.
  2. Teams enable organizations to develop products and services more quickly and cost effectively.
  3. Teams enable organizations to learn more effectively and retain that learning.
  4. Cross-functional teams promote improved quality management.
  5. Cross-functional teams can undertake radical change successfully.
  6. Innovation is promoted within team-based organizations because of cross-fertilization of ideas.
  7. Teams can integrate and link in ways individuals cannot to ensure information is processed effectively in the complex structure of modern organizations.

Teams Need Development Too

According to “Collaborative Overload,” a 2016 Harvard Business Review article, collaboration — or teams — is taking over the workplace. “As business becomes increasingly global and cross-functional, silos are breaking down, connectivity is increasing, and teamwork is seen as key to organizational success.” The article also explained that the time managers and employees spend in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent.

Teams can solve strategic problems, drive innovation, serve customers’ needs, impact your bottom line, and most importantly, offer competitive advantage against your rivals. From the C-suite to the shop floor, teams address key value creation activities in all businesses. Given that well-functioning teams are so effective at solving critical problems, you’d expect that organizations would invest heavily in helping teams develop. You’d be wrong.

How much do we spend in the U.S. on team development? No one knows for sure because it’s too small to track. It’s certainly a tiny fraction of the $24 billion largely wasted on leadership development. As a result, most of our teams perform poorly.

In any organization, the most important team is the leadership team. In “Senior Leadership Teams: What it Takes to Make Them Great,” Harvard’s Ruth Wageman surveyed performance for 120 senior leadership teams from companies of all sizes around the globe. An eye-popping four out of five of those leadership teams performed at levels described as either “poor” (42 percent) or “mediocre” (37 percent). That’s an unacceptably high rate (about 80 percent) of failure if we’re looking for teams to perform better than “mediocre.”

Stanford Professor Behnam Tabrizi studied cross-functional teams for three years in several industries, including software, retail, pharmaceuticals and financial services. He published his findings in a 2015 Harvard Business Review article whose very title tells the depressing story: “75% of Cross-Functional Teams are Dysfunctional.”

A New Model for Success

No single person can make an organization successful. It takes teaming.

Teaming occurs when people come together and apply their expertise to perform complex tasks or develop solutions to novel problems. Fast-moving work environments need people who have the skills and flexibility to act in moments of potential collaboration, whenever and wherever they appear.

Teaming requires a modified conceptualization of leadership. Yes, there needs to be a formal leader in most teams and in successful organizations. But this leader shares leadership responsibility with those on the team who have expertise or other unique perspectives. It’s called shared leadership. It’s a situationally intelligent process where leadership and followership flows from one to another based on the circumstances.

Leading and teaming are the two halves of a healthy whole. In complex, high functioning organizations, you cannot have one without the other. Success ultimately demands both.

Join the revolution. Build a better future where your people have the skills — and your organization has the culture — to create high performing teams. Invest in those teams and improve your ROI.

Sean M. Gallagher is CEO of the Influence Success Company, a team coaching and development firm. Comment below or email@editor@CLOmedia.com.

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0 Comments

  1. My bet is that $24B includes a whole lot of team development efforts as “leadership development” is an all-encompassing description. Very few engagements that I have been involved with over the past 10+ years have been about a “strong leader.” Most have been about creating leadership at all levels and leading and developing teams a central component of that.

    • Not sure I agree, J.C. — the focus of leadership development tends to be on the individual rather than the “shared, situationally-intelligent and fluid sense of leadership and followship” that this article talks about. We don’t have enough investments made in teaching people how teaming works, IMHO.

      • Nice read. I don’t have concrete research citings but can say that 100% of the leadership development initiatives I created or participated in involved some team component (usually experiential learning which is a best practice). I would think the $24B includes this. Leaders need both self awareness and team leadership skills. One is not superior to the other.

        • Thank you very much for weighing in, LaTonya. I agree with you, one is not superior to the other. They are equally important. The problem is caused by the dominance of leadership training and the dearth of teaming skill training. Experiential learning is, indeed, a best practice for learning. However, unless specifically designed to help the learner develop useful teamwork skills, it’s of little value for developing best-practice. Very, very little team training is based on empirically derived best practices. Thank you for your commitment.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      I am not aware of either primary research or anecdotal evidence that supports your suggestion that organizations are actively promoting teaming skills or utilizing empirically derived best practices. Team development that is commonly embraced focus on team relationships and cohesiveness. Unfortunately, companies invest in these efforts under the mistaken belief that improvement in cohesion leads to improvement in task performance. (See published research by Cutter, 2007; Wageman et al 2008; Hackman 2002, 2011; Hawkins, 2011; West, 2012; West and Lyubovnikova, 2012; and Carr and Peters, 2012. Email me for the complete references.)

      You write that most of your engagements have been “about creating leadership at all levels and leading and developing teams a central component of that.” I believe your comment proves my point. Leading is different from teaming. And shared leadership concepts and techniques, important for team effectiveness, are rarely a focus of consulting engagements. Finally, there is considerable published research that there are six conditions that drive team success. Wageman and Hackman’s six conditions model has been shown to explain up to 80% of the variance in team performance. For an overview of the six conditions, see: http://www.refresher.com/building-effective-teams-6-conditions-for-success/)

      Thank you again for contributing to the debate!

  2. Thank you for your comment.

  3. I agree with the premise that teams and teaming is vital to success. My experiences from team sports in my youth, to my stints in the U.S Army, and my career in law enforcement have proven that the team concept is utilize with positive result. I’m pleased that business is looking to follow this proven model.

    • Thank you for your comment, Herb. The reference to your experience in the US Army is an important one. When I speak to business audiences on this topic, veterans of the armed services frequently mention how important team skills are and that there is a gap between their military experience and their private sector experience as to emphasis on development of teaming skills. It fascinates me that the private section clings to traditional notions of command and control, while the armed services, a more hierarchical organization, rigorously trains team members in shared leadership, collaboration, and trust development. We have much to learn to learn.

      • Hi Sean. I am a retired veteran before joining corporate HR to champion the leadership cause. The military taught me, there are no bad soldiers, only poor bad leaders!. I still belief it rings true given that the fish always rots from the head.

        The cornerstone and hallmarks of military is leadership, discipline and teamwork. Sad to say, in most corporate enterprises all three attributes are pathetically missing. To claim teamwork exist is a joke !. That’s why leadership sucks in most situations. There are far too many oxymoron practices lurking under the hidden under iceberg called culture !. They claim to work hard towards goals but departments operate in silos and employees are disengaged. They yearn for teamwork and attend off site team building workshops. But back at work, performance is individually measured and rewarded. At best, they are groups working collectively to survive on their job or livelihood.

        I concur with your thoughts. Too much focus and recognition has been given to the individualism concept at the expense of teaming. It takes a different breed of leadership to challenge and disrupt the traditional path. Notions of power and authority is only relevant to the success of what the team has undertaken to accomplish the mission (goals, KPIs, Targets, and Projects). I like and prefer to promote the servant leadership model where everyone is treated with humility or serving as a team player and being inter-dependent on each other. The vertical hierarchy may exist but the culture and environment operates in matrix teamwork. The whole is greater than the sum total.

        Though, I am from Malaysia, I believe the teamwork chasm and organisational entropy is universal, wherever there exist dictatorial leaders and apathetic employees.

        • Hell, Yuvarajah.

          Thanks for your valuable comments. I believe our views are very much aligned, though we may use different labels.

          FYI, I recently discovered “Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders” by L. David Marquet. It is his story of turning around a poor performing nuclear powered submarine using what he calls the “leader-leader” model. I would call it “shared leadership” and teaming, you might referred to it as servant leadership and teamwork. You might find it an interesting read. I did and use it with my clients.

          Thanks again for your input.

          Sean

  4. Sean, I think you’re a bit judgemental here about the field of leadership development. Having worked in it for 25 years, there are certainly better and worse programmes. But that’s not a grabbing headline!

    But, I agree with your main point about teaming, and that it’s sort-of been forgotten. This isn’t a dilemma of choosing to focus on teams or leaders. Smart, mature leaders use their power to empower their teams. They hand back authority to their teams, with energies focused around a clear purpose. They get high engagement and better results. And leadership programmes that help them learn to do this will be effective!

    • Rob, thank you for contributing to the debate. I would argue I’m more than a bit judgmental. It’s more like I’m very judgmental! In our culture, we venerate the concept of “the leader.” We hold the concept of “the leader” in our culture as so self-evidently valuable that it is difficult to for us to question and examine it. I believe your comments illustrate that point. Your comments include “leaders use their power” and “they hand back authority.” This titular leader-centric phrasing, in my opinion, mistakenly embodies power and authority in “the leader.” In fact, leaders are, and always have been, dependent on others. Members of teams have their own source of power and authority. If they don’t, why are they on the team? When we utilize leader-centric language and framing, we are hindering the power and effectiveness of teamwork. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not recommending anarchy. Roles and responsibilities are crucial to effective team functioning. I’m advocating that we recognize the limitation of our model of leadership and to strengthen skills and norms related to teamwork and shared leadership. It will require a change in our cultural beliefs, it will be difficult to accomplish, but those organizations that lead the way will prosper.

      • Sean, thanks for your reply, and this is turning into an interesting discussion. Like being on the verge of agreement, and, simultaneously, of being poles apart. I like your point about leaders being dependent on others. Without willing team members, they have no influence, and are clay-footed, leaders in title only. And, of course, team members have many sources of their own power and influence: personal, technical, charisma, reward, networks and more.

        But I think you’re under-playing the power leaders do have. Self-managed teams aside, (which have patchy records of effectiveness), most organisations appoint people as leaders and give them authority, explicit or implicit. I think of authority as the answer to the question: what decisions could I make? What makes the process of leadership (not the person who is leader) interesting is how the leader chooses to use their power. I think there’s been a huge shift of leadership practice in the last 20 years. From more command and control modes, to effective leaders seeing themselves as inter-dependent with their team members – I need them and they need me. But, leadership roles are still important parts of hierarchies, and of our working lives. Let’s face it: we are super-sensitive to the mere presence of power, influence and authority.

        My interest is in helping leaders and teams to use their power and influence in more mature, sustainable ways, that help get work done well, build skills and make workplaces better places to be.

        And that needn’t involve a mindset of being leader-centric. We’re in shifting times of distrust in our key political, business and community leaders. We know that the individual leader-as-hero is a myth. More than ever, because of the complexity of work, individual leaders don’t have the answers. But, I do believe that leaders can learn to handle their power in more mature ways, precisely for the benefit of the people they serve, not for their own aggrandisement.

        • Good evening, Rob. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and approach to this important issue.

          I believe we are close in our views. A leader who is ultimately responsible for team performance is required, in my opinion and experience. I’m watching with interest the development of the holacracy approach at Zappos and elsewhere. However, I remain skeptical.

          Where I differ with the leadership development industry is with the primacy of the leader. Success requires attention to team design, team membership, a compelling direction, team norms, a supportive organizational context, team coaching (internal or external coaching), shared leadership, and trust. These are co-created by those on the team and influenced by the team’s stakeholders. The leader is a member of the team, not separate and above the team.

          Unfortunately, we emphasize leadership and ignore the solid, empirically derived data regarding team design and operation. And, while much of leadership training is based on anecdotes and personal beliefs, the conditions that drive team success can be readily measured and improved. I have great respect and appreciation for the work on teams that Richard Hackman and Ruth Wageman (both collaborated while at Harvard) have done on team effectiveness. I hold in high regard their book, Senior Leadership Teams. It explains their empirical research and how to use it to improve team performance. Fortunately, the conditions required for success are the same for senior leadership teams and teams on the shop floor.

          There is no doubt that we have a crisis of leadership effectiveness in 21st century organizations. If nothing else, look at the terrible employee engagement results reported by Gallup and others.

          As I stated in the article, leading and teaming are the two halves of a healthy whole. In complex, high functioning organizations, we cannot have one without the other. Success ultimately demands both. It’s like the two halves of the human brain. We need both to be effective. Yet we continue to nurture one half of the brain (leadership) while starving the other half (teaming).

          And, we need to utilize evidence-based best practices for both leadership and teaming.

          Thank you again for your constructive debate on this topic. I’m sure it will help other readers better assess the challenges and options.

  5. Sean, Great post. Just to deal with your first point … the need to change the “conventional wisdom” around Leadership Development. The numbers that you quote are quite horrific, showing that the business nirvana it promised has not been realised. I’d like to support your stand with 2 points:

    First, these development programs sold to senior management as a panacea have one glaring fault … the programs pitch developing (changing) people (usually mid level managers) within the context of not changing the company culture. “If you put a good person against a bad system, the system wins every time.” (Geary Rummler) It’s like running development programs on creativity and innovation and having a company culture that punishes people (both unintentionally and intentionally) for any failure/ trying something new.

    Second, because it’s an industry, there are many, many consultants and academics who have an emotional sunk cost-like investment in maintaining the staus quo. They’ll resist any change. So when you say to them, “It’s failed” they’ll say, “I think you’re a bit judgemental here..” For them it’s not just “a development program”… it’s a whole belief system with an associated (very profitable) business model. It’s their raison d’etre.

    Alfie Kohn (Punished By Rewards) summed up this kind of situation: “There’s a time to admire the grace and persuasive power of an influential idea, and a time to fear its hold over us.

    The time to worry is when the idea is so widely shared that we no longer even notice it; when it is so deeply rooted that it feels to us like plain common sense. At the point when objections are not answered any more because they are no longer even raised, we are not in control.

    We do not have the idea. It has us.” Sadly, traditional Leadership Development has us.

    • Thank you for sharing your insights, Mark. I agree with your points. If I can paraphrase your sentiments, “We do not hold cultural beliefs, they hold us.” Kudos to those open to examining their beliefs. The value of leadership development is mistakenly accepted as dogma. Our job is to find ever improving ways of illuminating the fact that leadership development is not the solution. Its part of the solution, but it needs to be paired with evidence-based team design and teaming skills. Leading and teaming are the yin and yang of organizational problem solving.
      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f3790b361f4a04f94b88be45f907f3148430b31d2ad612febd5c3721791aa371.png

      • Sean, just to follow on… I also believe that the yin and yang model is a better representation of most things in business, compared to the standard MBA 4-box matrix or the other geometrical shapes that are used…. in fact, I’d suggest that a better use of yin and yang model is to have it animated rather than the static model so that it’s obvious that there’s a continual flux between the two and that there’s a seed of one located in the other.

        One last comment. I love your point about the myth of the omnipotent hero-leader. Here’s what I’ve found (and it also leads to the confusion regarding just what “leadership” is):

        A person in a leadership position with terrific leadership skills is called a leader.
        A person in a leadership position with lousy leadership skills is called a leader.
        A person NOT in a leadership position with terrific leadership skills is called a trouble-maker by people in leadership positions with lousy leadership skills.

  6. I’m not sure what you think leadership is. Effective leaders have to lead something. I have been helping leaders become more effective for many years and I reject the idea that leadership development is a failed industry. I’ve benefited from great leaders and that’s why I have dedicated myself to passing on the lessons I learned. The primary lesson though has been that success has never been about the leader, but what the leader does to make the team more successful. If there are leadership development programs that are not based on that principle, then reject them. However, programs that I and other colleagues I know provide emphasize this basic point.

    Since I see your business concentrates on team building, I suppose it’s natural to take the position you have, though I’m baffled at how you can help teams develop without helping the team’s leaders develop as well. It’s unfortunate that you chose to use this forum to further your own business by incorrectly denigrating the work of those of us who do understand good leadership.

    • Bob, thank you very much for your thought-provoking comments. Your remarks reflect the views of most professionals. For many, and I sense this applies to you, my comments strike the ears as heresy and stimulate an emotional response. Heresy is a belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious doctrine. In Western culture, especially in the U.S., the primacy of leadership is held so strongly as to mimic religious doctrine. Though my arguments are based, to a large extent, on empirical evidence, many readers are unable to comprehend the larger argument because it challenges a long-held belief. Perhaps that was your experience.

      My article is made up of around 1,000 words. At no point in those thousand words do I suggest that leadership is unimportant. I do point out the failures of our leadership model. The first three paragraphs lay out the facts that as the leadership development industry has grown and prospered, business performance and employee confidence in leaders has declined. Employee engagement is at dreadful levels. Business must examine the ROI on all their investments. There is little evidence that the ROI for leadership development is attractive.

      You write “I’m not sure what you think leadership is.” Yet I wrote “… the purpose of leadership is to effectuate positive change.” This may be a simplification, but I believe it is a reasonable summary. The constraints of a CLO Magazine article prevent me from reviewing the literature on leadership in more detail.

      In support of the status quo, you write “The primary lesson though has been that success has never been about the leader, but what the leader does to make the team more successful.” From a logic standpoint, you’re saying “it’s not about the leader, rather it’s about the leader.” My argument is that this leader-centricity framing obscures the fact that leaders are dependent on others and we must consider them. Team members are not inanimate objects. They contribute to the whole. Success requires attention to team design, team membership, a compelling direction, team norms, a supportive organizational context, team coaching (internal or external coaching), shared leadership, and trust. These are co-created by those on the team and influenced by the team’s stakeholders. The leader is a member of the team, not separate and above the team.

      I’ll close with the second to last sentence in the article: “Leading and teaming are the two halves of a healthy whole. In complex, high functioning organizations, you cannot have one without the other. Success ultimately demands both.”

      Thank you again, Bob, for challenging the ideas and for the opportunity to respond.

  7. So, a Team skills consultant says other developmental efforts suck, and that Team skills are the only way to go. I’m shocked. Shocked, I tell you. Your premise is simply wrong; leadership development hasn’t failed.

    The Dow is over 20,000, our GDP is almost $18T, from $8T just 20 years ago. Market cap has increased 25-fold in less than 40 years. Productivity growth is a random, non-trending metric, and the very study you reference says nothing of a leadership or management impact–only structural factors (such as capital investment).

    Your comment, “The industry that consumes billions of dollars intended to develop leaders has failed the leader, the organization and society,” is simply sensationalistic malarkey. U.S. companies spend almost $5B (ATD) on Team skills training… is that why “…most of our teams perform poorly?” Perhaps THAT industry, too, is failing the team, the organization and society. What, exactly, are you DOING with that money if it’s driving an “80% team failure rate?”

    Businesses, teams, industries… all rely on leadership to succeed. Effective leadership is learned (read “developed”) skill. Do some develop leaders better than others? Absolutely. Just like poor team skills training will likely not make better teams. So, then, do we simply trash all team skills training because some don’t “get it?” No.

    I suppose I understand your position, given your bias. Just a bit surprised to see it here without a realistic counterpoint. Your experience with leader development appears to be abysmal–I know of no credible development experts (and I know many of them) that promote the “hero leader” you describe, though it does make for great click-bait.

    But that’s just me…

    KB

    • Thanks for your comments, Kevin.

      The Dow companies are America’s blue chip, multinational companies, yet make up only 15% of the US GDP. You cite the exceptions, rather than the rule.

      I cited several examples of our underperforming economy. There are many more. The last recession ended in June 2009. In the years six following the end of the recession, real annual GDP growth has not exceeded the 2.5 percent it hit in 2010. The average growth rate for economic recoveries since the 1960s is 3.9 percent. With an average GDP growth rate of just 2.1 percent, this recovery has been among the slowest.

      One of my concerns is the slow growth in US productivity. You write that it is a random, non-trending metric. That is factually incorrect. And, business leaders can have an impact on productivity. The data is clear that engaged employees are more productive. Business leaders have utterly failed to exert the leadership required to improve engagement and therefore productivity. Capital investment is one of many factors in productivity growth/decline.

      Without growth in productivity, companies can’t increase real wages. We are experiencing social unrest in the US due to the decline in the middle class. It is a critical problem that business leaders can, and should, address. Leadership is important.

      You mention an ATD statistic on funds invested in team skills and write “Perhaps THAT industry, too, is failing the team, the organization and society. What, exactly, are you DOING with that money if it’s driving an “80% team failure rate?” I do not control those funds. However, most of the programs employed are not evidence-based programs that provide lasting change. I do recommend that companies focus on what works. Please see the seventh paragraph in the article that states “When well-trained, teams are a powerful tool with which to achieve organizational goals.” The constraints of a CLO article prevented me from elaborating on what “well-trained” means.

      I’m concerned that you missed two of the last three paragraphs of the article. I’ve copied them here. Perhaps if you had absorbed these paragraphs your feedback would have been a bit different.
      “Teaming requires a modified conceptualization of leadership. Yes, there needs to be a formal leader in most teams and in successful organizations. But this leader shares leadership responsibility with those on the team who have expertise or other unique perspectives. It’s called shared leadership. It’s a situationally intelligent process where leadership and followership flows from one to another based on the circumstances.”
      “Leading and teaming are the two halves of a healthy whole. In complex, high functioning organizations, you cannot have one without the other. Success ultimately demands both.”
      Again, thank you for your contribution.

  8. I am intrigued by the verbal batting about the value of (individual) leadership vs. team development. As some one who provides both, I know there is considerable value in both efforts. That’s on a micro level. I think Sean has made some interesting points relevant to the more macro, global picture: our world is changing on many levels and we have yet to come up with a leadership model that is suitable for the challenges of the century. Certainly, we encourage individual leaders to think results AND how to create the conditions for innovation, leveraging talent and support learning and growth. Yet we are no where near having a universal understanding of what it takes for leaders to see the (much) bigger picture, and how they might bring influence to create positive change beyond the confines of their own organization and immediate stakeholders.
    I have worked with some very smart leaders – and teams, for that matter. Some of them are doing incredible work yet the need for thinking outside the box to partner up with other entities and stakeholders seldom crosses their minds. Perhaps that’s why we have the gaping divide between the haves and have nots in terms of skills, knowledge and wealth. This is unsustainable if we want democracy to survive and thrive.
    I am not trying to make a political statement here. Rather, our sights are often too low without seeing what is on the horizon.

    • Thanks, Caroline. Excellent points

  9. Interesting. How many times can you remember people receive exciting training only to come back to their jobs and find the existing processes, procedures, policies, etc. don’t support implementing what they learned? Excitement turns to frustration.

    Teams are wonderful but present internal challenges. There are many variables that impact the effectiveness of teams and leadership development initiatives.

    Don’t overlook the compensation system, the potential conflicts when a person is on a team and has non-team responsibilities also, the reality of holding people accountable when they may not personally have the ability to make something happen, etc.

    The studies on team and leadership development performance might just stymie the real discussion that needs to take place in an organization – what needs to be put in place to support teaming or leadership development initiatives to enable the people to perform at the next level at the same or lower cost? The devil is in the detail of each organization’s way of doing business.

    • Thank you, slol1. You highlight key points that impact adoption or rejection of change initiatives. We must consider the system the change will be operating in and alter the system as needed.

      • Agree. When the research studies are done or when you do your consulting, what percentage of organizations would you guess have an operating culture that is not conducive to either leadership development approaches or teaming thriving?

        It is difficult to judge the effectiveness of anything unless you know the status of the critical variables impacting the outcome.

  10. I understand the original post and the thread. Simply, my belief is that Leadership Development is not failing and teaming is not the primary answer solution to the problem. Leadership extends to all areas of a company, not just the leadership or executive team. An entry level, front line worker can contribute to the leadership of a company.

    It is all too common today, however for leaders to become misguided and fall into the trap of thinking they are a great or good leader by taking seminar courses or implementing the now over common posts with 10 words, each setting a piece of what a leader is. The fail of believing that everyone should be treated equally; everyone deserves to have their ideas put into action; everyone is cut out to be a leader; etc.

    I also disagree that a single person cannot make an organization successful. That’s just not true at all. A single person can make an organization successful and can make an organization fail.

    The fact is, that if the top of the company has the strength and philosophy needed for strong leadership, and each level below is empowered to follow suit, the natural progression will be team cooperation and done correctly will likely yield successful results for the organization (the fundamentals of all of this is too much to cover in this post). It is important to also realize that one bad seed allowed to rot in the group has the ability and probability to stagnate and halt the progress possible. My final thought on the subject is to promote from within where the potential for success can be instilled in the candidate prior to taking on the new leadership role by developing in advance of the leadership venture. Far too often are employees promoted to management because they perform a non management/leadership role very well. In the same like, transition to leadership seems always the carrot to employees. Quite frankly, great leaders are far and few between and the potential for an alternate route in the company may be more complimentary to the targeted person.

    Much much more to cover on this subject but the basics are covered.

  11. Many thanks for sharing your valuable insights and opinion about the importance of teams. As you mentioned, “Leading and teaming are the two halves of a healthy whole”. So, it will be crucial and in the interest of companies and organizations that they keep on investing in leadership and team development.

    In today’s complex, changing and challenging business environments (e.g. globalization, global competitiveness, use of off-shoring, pace of technological change) we need new ways of thinking, mind-set, learning, and development in organizations. New ways of thinking about the nature of leadership, leadership development and team development because both aspects are inseparable. Leadership competencies will still matter, but they will change as the competitive environment changes. More and more it is necessary to have a high tolerance for change, innovation, openness, and flexibility. Additionally, the importance of a leader’s credibility, trustworthiness and character (e.g. respecting others, humility, striving for fairness) is becoming more critical in today’s economy. Therefore, leaders must be capable or willing to adapt their emotional intelligence (EQ), intelligence quotient (IQ) and fundamental complementary professional skill set to the strategies and goals of their company and teams.

    Simultaneously, it is significant using the skills and abilities of the people you have and talents in your high-performing teams. Furthermore, to be able or willing to give people the opportunity to learn and apply new skills. The ability of leaders, top management and HR professionals to recognize high potentials and talents of the people they have in the company, business units and teams will be significant. At same time, an organizational culture and structure that promotes and do not block employees intellectual and/or practical experience participation is essential. Therefore, creating or continuing an environment that facilitates both individual and organizational learning, new knowledge creation and application, in which the willingness to share knowledge and experiences with others can flourish is equally important.

    On this point, leadership can also be understood as the collective capacity of all members of a company or organization to accomplish their business strategy and objectives, creating alignment and gaining commitment. In the end, mutually investment both in leadership and team development, and in organizational culture and structure requirements is going to have a positive influence on the return of investment of the people, gaining competitive advantage, exceeding customer expectations, and in increasing the bottom line of the company.

    • Thank you for your comments. I particularly found the following comment as useful: “… leadership can also be understood as the collective capacity of all members of a company or organization to accomplish their business strategy and objectives, creating alignment and gaining commitment.”

  12. Thanks Sean! I think your analysis is spot on and I appreciate that at the end of the article you acknowledge the importance of individual leadership as one half of a two-sided coin. I’ve been thinking a lot recently on how I’ve never come across a course on Followership or being a great Follower. We all want to be great leaders but how many of us actually work at being great followers? I think teaming helps us create a context for more fluid and distributed leadership and followership. And as we continue to disrupt and experiment with innovative organizational and team structures (i.e. think Holacracy, Agile, etc…) I think we are going to see a marked increase in self-managing collective leadership and a decline in heroic individual leadership. Deloitte’s 2017 Predictions is a great read that supports your thinking and includes a bold statement that “leadership development is a broken market.” Here are links to both the full report and one with slides only: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/at/Documents/about-deloitte/predictions-for-2017-final.pdf https://event.on24.com/event/12/53/12/2/rt/1/documents/resourceList1481575931259/dbriefs_hr_executives_121316v2.pdf?dummy=dummyBody. Thanks again for your provocative and thoughtful piece. I look forward to (hopefully!) your next article where you outline more about what the emerging solutions look like in more detail.

  13. I like where you say “Leading and teaming are two halves of a healthy whole.” However, I would but it somewhat differently… leadership and followership are two halves of a generative whole.

    To me, both are essential. The problem is not the leadership industry, it’s that we don’t also teach followership. Imagine we taught people to dance the same as we teach them to ‘team’. We would take one person into the studio, teach them how to lead, then assume the couple would work brilliantly together on the dance floor. That’s not how it works for dance, so why we do we assume that works for organizations?

    • Hello Marc and thank you for your thoughtful contribution.

      When I think of using the word “followership,” I perceive the following three challenges.

      1) From a Western macro-cultural perspective, we venerate “leaders” and denigrate “followers.” In our collective subconscious, someone who follows is called a “lemming.” And it is an insult. These beliefs are unfair, counterproductive, and do not represent reality. However, they are, in my opinion, preconceived notions in our shared mindset. Therefore, few people would aspire to being “great followers.” On the other hand, being considered a great team player in our culture is considered a very positive attribute. Given a choice, I believe most people would prefer to be described in their annual review as a team player rather than a follower. In my opinion, we incur less resistance to a good idea if we use the term teaming.

      2) Teams are made up of people with different expertise. There is a nominal leader, but the leadership is, in high functioning teams, share based on who has and utilizes the most practical information. I was once the leader of a cross functional team responsible for the profitable management of a product line. When we had a regulatory issue, the regulatory representative provided leadership, not me. I was the marketing expert. We challenged and debated the appropriateness of her advice. Sometimes that would result in a change in her stance. Sometimes it resulted in the team following her lead. And I encouraged her, and others, to challenge my marketing approaches. And frequently my marketing decisions were improved through their challenging and debating with me. So, who was the leader and who was the follower? I was the nominal leader, but the success of the team depended on shared leadership.

      3) I utilize the word teaming based on Amy Edmundson’s description of the word (found in her book “Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate and Compete in the Knowledge Economy.”). She writes that “Teaming is a verb. It is a dynamic activity, not a bounded, static entity. It is largely determined by the mindset and practices of teamwork.” In my experience, this is what happens when teams are at their best.

      For these three reasons I believe the following statement is both accurate and more likely to be accepted in our culture: “Leading and teaming are two halves of a healthy whole.”

      Don’t get me wrong, the leader must be held responsible for his or her performance and the performance of the team. We also need to recognize the fact that shared leadership in the team’s functioning is critical for performance.

      Thank you again for your contribution and allowing me to share my opinions.

      • Hi Sean, this is a great exchange. Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

        I’ve been training teams and organizations on followership for over a decade now, and have co-authored a book on it: Leadership is Half the Story: A Fresh Look at Followership, Leadership, and Collaboration. I remember that for many years, organizations didn’t want us to use the F-word in training. That changed about three years ago. Why? I think part of the reason may be that social media is affecting our perceptions of followership as a passive, lemming-like (or sheep-like) role. Also, prominent business thinkers such as Susan Cain, Adam Grant, and Marshall Goldsmith have recently taken up the followership cause and are tweeting/writing about it.

        As for your points 2 and 3, we are in complete agreement. The difficulty is that people get fixated on the formal title of leader, not realizing that informal leadership and followership are what happens in avgenerative collaboration, and that the roles switch from person to person, depending on the needs of the team.

        Warmly, Marc

  14. No… it hasn’t failed it just isn’t prioritized. Most companies treat leadership development like an afterthought, so money get’s thrown into leadership development purchases without a true strategy for developing leadership talent. Nevertheless, I really liked the article because it highlighted the importance of teams and it is teams that get projects completed and that is a lesson I have seen play out again and again.

    However, then we circle back around to the subject of leadership because good teams have good leaders. I think we need to invest more in leadership development because we are facing a leadership crisis with so many seasoned leaders retiring. There are many inexperienced leaders getting thrust into higher positions of authority and they need time/support to grow into those positions. For most it will be trial by error while they invest in their own leadership curriculum. Others will have a supportive company with a true leadership development strategy and that will result in the development of leadership talent and leading teams will be a crucial part of that talent.

  15. Might “teaming” work? Yes. Is individual leadership dead? No. Is this yet another superficial flavor of the day? Yes!

    There are only two elements to leadership:

    The first:
    Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.
    -Pasi Sahlberg

    If you don’t understand this quote, read it again. Read it aloud, read it slowly. Until you have a personal epiphany of understanding, and the implications for leadership, nothing can help you become a better (or even good) leader.

    The second :
    Many people do not want change; find those who do.

    Save yourself time and money on gurus, superficiality, and quick-fixes. If you accept the first element, and seek out those mentioned in the second element, everyone on the team will be properly oriented, and “leadership” will not differ from the way everyone normally carries themselves.


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