Celebrating The ‘I’ In Team (Part IV of IV)

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith

POSTED ON JANUARY 9, 2012

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“The Privilege Of A Life Is Being Who You Are” - Joseph Campbell

I believe that there is a paradox available to us that we are missing.

I am all for effective teamwork, and understand that everyone needs to contribute according to their capabilities (when I go onto a construction site, people worry that I’m going to injure myself, so apparently I have some clear limitations). But all this emphasis on being part of the team, knowing your role, sublimating yourself to the greater good, it all asks people to limit themselves and their thinking and their efforts and can very easily lead people to just be a cog, one piece in a structure where the structure is more important to the individuals. That’s what’s wrong with many companies.

What if instead companies focused on building great individual leadership - at both the personal and professional level – so that absolutely every person in the company doesn’t just feel they are a part of the overall effort, but actually recognize it to be the truth, how powerful would the resulting team be? That’s the paradox: In order to form an outstanding, unstoppable team, focus on supporting and building the individual leadership skills of every single person involved. And recognize that this effort is a full time journey, encompassing every part of one’s life, for the rest of it – it isn’t something that you leave at the office. Among the companies, Boards, and various experts that I have spoken to about leadership, here’s how many I have found that think that way: None. They all focus on teams (cogs) and team leaders, rather than great teams emerging from mature individual leaders from top to bottom.

We have been struggling with this; everyone knows that leadership is such a difficult problem when it’s applied to the few, so how to you develop it among absolutely everyone? Three thoughts:

1: Of everything I have ever read on Leadership, the best ‘ideal’ that I have yet found is Jim Collin’s discussion of ‘Level Five Leaders’ in Good To Great. You can google yourself to a summary of this kind of Leader in about one minute, but it’s a “paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will …. a compelling modesty, self effacing and understated, (but also) fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce sustained results, to do whatever it takes…” (Collins’ words, not mine). Everyone can understand and strive for that.

2: A great leader, to me, is dedicated to creating successful leaders and successful people all around them, inside the company and out. If I had to set out one single criterion for the next CEO of EllisDon, I would look for that dedication. Want to be a great leader? Don’t get out of your people’s way, get solidly behind them (both supporting them firmly and, often, pushing them hard). But focus entirely on their success, not your own.

3. Great individual leadership is about a person’s whole life. Any effort or initiative aimed strictly at the professional side will not succeed.

What if every company was exclusively focused on having every person who works there achieve their fullest individual potential in life. What if that was their sole ‘corporate mission’? How great would these companies be? And how much better could we make each other’s lives?