To Lead a Team, Start by Changing Yourself

William Klepper explains the one trap that many would-be leaders fall into.

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The first thing I always tell leaders of teams is don’t try to be all things to all people. I use the great philosopher Dirty Harry, who said “a man’s got to know his limitations.”

If I’m going to be a team leader, which is the context we’re working in here, you’ve got to know yourself. What is it you bring to the table that you’re really good at? The second thing is, you’ve got to control yourself. And by controlling yourself, what I’m really saying is understand the things you’re not good at. But the beauty of a team is you can surround yourself with those people that contrast you in terms of your capabilities. And now you have a full deck.

Let’s say I’ve identified the importance of somebody that serves as a conductor, that, for the most part pulls the group together, starts to work with them, gets their process right — how’re we going to behave here, what’re going to be our guidelines. But, one thing about conductors is, by the way, if they always stay in that role and don’t start doing some of what I call the “dirty work,” people can kind of resent them. It’s good to be a conductor, but when it’s time to pick up an instrument and play, do it.

You have to make a mind shift. Once you form that team, you move from what is basically what I call a command and control leader to more of an egalitarian participatory leader. You now become one of them. You can guide, but you’ve got to, in many ways, give authority to them to figure things out for you. You’ve got to step aside. You’ve got to facilitate, as opposed to dictate. That’s where you run into a problem with most leaders.

About the researcher

William Klepper

Dr. Klepper joined Columbia Business School in 1996 after over thirty years as a general manager in higher education.  He is a management professor...

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