You are a leader. Yes, you!

A couple of years ago I was attending the course “Secrets of Agile Teamwork – Beyond Technical Skills” by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen. It was a brilliant course, and so far, I have had more use of it than any other course I have attended or book I have read. In the special Esther-and-Diana-style (you must try it if you get the chance), we learned about communication, conflict, feedback, change and leadership. We also learned a lot about ourselves from reflecting over how we behaved in different situations. Highly recommended!

One section in the course was “Team Leadership Activities” and that would prove a real eye-opener to me. It is a great tool to view a team through, to understand what makes a team move forward towards their goal and how you can contribute.

[spoiler alert: this will reveal the goal of one of the exercises in the course]

Early in the course, the class was assigned a task: Sort a zillion playing cards of different shapes, sizes and types. We should complete the task together as a group, and so we did (to the surprise of Esther and Diana, if I recall correctly).

Afterwards, we were asked what we did to make the group reach its goal. We jotted down our actions on post-its.  It was obvious things like “Sorting cards” and “Clarifying requirements”, but also things like “Step back and get an overview”. We were then asked to place these post-its under some categories:

  1. Instructor – coaches others
  2. Follower – provides encouragement, conforms to agreements
  3. Pioneer – looks for new ideas and ways
  4. Influencer – initiates team culture
  5. Commentator – puts in context
  6. Coordinator – aligns team activities
  7. Peacemaker – works for harmony and common ground
  8. Promoter – supports quieter team members
  9. Critic – looks for risks and weaknesses
  10. Gatekeeper – maintains working agreements
  11. Reviewer – assure meeting of acceptance criteria
  12. Monitor – maintains team relationships
  13. Devils advocate – deliberately seeks other views

These are the Team Leadership Roles. They can be further categorized into the activities Direction (1-4),  Guidance (5-8) and Evaluation (9-13).

Up until that moment I had defined leadership in terms of taking the lead. Esther and Diana re-defined leadership as making a group reach its goals. This means that you can take leadership responsibility for your team and your goals even when you support another persons ideas, or when you play the Devils advocate, or when you negotiate a compromise (Peacemaker).

Over time in a successful team these roles must be filled, and anyone can fill a role, they are not bound to a specific individual. It is not even desirable that a single person fills the same role time and time again, since after a while, people will stop listening. An example of this is if the same person plays the Devils advocate too many times, he or she will just be considered negative in general.

It is also important to actively let people shift roles, e.g. the promoter can help a follower to take on an influencer role if that is what he/she would like to try.

I would say that this is an essential part of modern leadership. It has made me more comfortable in day-to-day team work because I can just support another idea and still know I practice leadership. In the same way, we all can practice good leadership in our own way, because we are all leaders. You are a leader.


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. PEZ
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 13:01:39

    I kinda both agree and disagree. Of course I totally agree on that “you are a leader” goes for all of us. It’s something I believe so much in that I flinch when people use the word “leader” when they mean “boss”. You’d be surprised how many people don’t see the difference or see why the difference is important.

    But this roleplaying… I think it’s not necessary. I think it merely is a way to get away with lack of authenticity. Say I agree with you that all those roles must be filled (I’m not sure, I haven’t reflected long enough, but let’s say it anyway). Then maybe it’s better to actively recruit in order to get a complete team. Some of those roles come naturally to some people. Then you can have it without roleplaying.


    • danielbrolund
      Jun 13, 2009 @ 13:40:35

      I agree that if you have to play all the roles, not much good will come out of it. The problem is if you have a lot of direction- and guidance people in your team, but no one performs evaluation, you might be doing the thing right, but it is not the right thing to do. So, if you don’t have anyone that performs evaluative roles, you must play them, or even better and as you say, you hire someone for whom it comes naturally. Usually, the mix of people in a team covers most roles, but it is good to be aware of what you might be missing.


      • Mattias Vannergård
        Jun 15, 2009 @ 07:09:58

        As Daniel says – it’s all about awareness. You do not actual play the roles all the time, but you have to be aware of the roles.

        It’s like Design Patterns – you do not go around *using* the patterns, but you are aware of when a pattern fits, and the knowledge of the pattern lead you to think more focused about what you’re doing.

        Having a team where people naturally fits in all the roles will make it easier to succeed in the teamwork.

  2. PEZ
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 14:03:35

    This article reminds me about those four basic styles of management that they teach in some leadership courses. They are “Producer”, “Administrator”, “Entrepreneur” and “Integrator”. There are tests one can use to determine which style one has. Maybe if you compose your teams so that they have a good mix of styles, then you’ll cover those roles too?


    • danielbrolund
      Jun 13, 2009 @ 14:16:22

      They are interesting indeed, although I see mostly direction and guidance, and not so much evaluation. Am I missing something?


      • PEZ
        Jun 13, 2009 @ 14:42:19

        I don’t think that text gives a full coverage of the theory. It’s just what the “I feel lucky” button led me to when I googled.

  3. Trackback: Team Leadership | Personal Development for Success

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