Leadership is not about teams

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Dec 28

When people talk about “leadership,” they almost always refer to the trait as associated with leading teams of people. And, in the course of politics, sports, management and other areas, teams of people look to the leader to lead.

Walk into any bookstore, or search your favorite online bookstore with “leadership”as the search criteria, and you will find hundreds of books that follow along with this “leading people” approach.

While leadership in the team sense is important, for most of us who do not lead teams, to develop a leadership competency also seems irrelevant. That’s too bad. Leadership as an individual contributor not leading teams – like most of us in cubedom – is one of the most important competencies to learn.

  • Gary says:

    Sorry I’m getting to this so late. Perhaps the issue is how we define ‘teams’. Francie seems to imply that teams are formal work units – and leadership requires involvement of one of those ‘teams’.

    But perhaps there are other teams that individual contributor (I’ve always loathed that term) can lead….good leadership inspires others, people may want to ‘go where that person is going’ or ‘act like that person acts’ – because they see the positive influence of good leadership…

    I agree with Scot, “Their assumption is that since they are not leading a team, there is no leadership.” is an outdated concept……

    • Scot says:

      @Gary – Everyone is a leader, even if part of a team. The leadership part comes in when each person delivers their work to the team. In addition, they provide expertise on their subject area for the team. As well, one can deliver leadership by helping others on the team.

  • […] the non-management path and don’t become a manager. That’s perfectly OK. Everyone needs individual leadership as well as management […]

  • Scot Herrick says:

    Hi Francie — thanks for the comment.

    Leadership is interesting. There is the ‘leading teams’ viewpoint, ‘leadership as strategy’ viewpoint, and ‘how to become a leader viewpoint.’ All are valid and worthy of good writing all by themselves…I’ll have to write about that!!

    In any case, the purpose of my posts here on Leadership for Cubicle Warriors is that many knowledge workers do not believe they are leaders — when, in fact, they are but not necessarily in the traditional ways. Their assumption is that since they are not leading a team, there is no leadership. That attitude is what I am hoping to shed a little light on.


  • Francie says:

    Leadership as an individual contributor? That’s an interesting concept. I agree that individuals should accept responsibility, and could benefit from adopting many of the traits that make successful leaders. Just following the rules or even striving to make your individual contribution the best, does not make one a leader.

    Respectfully, I suggest that as they do that, they will then naturally move up to become leaders – of groups or teams. I think Leadership involves some group intiative and sharing direction with others. It’s not an individual endeavor.

    But, this is probably good advice in the “act as if” area, for those who would like to become leaders in their organizations.

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