Effective leaders need to move from a ‘me’ to a ‘we’ mentality as they progress in their career – and keep teamwork at the forefront of their leadership in order to build truly collaborative work environments, says Beth Freedman, MD of gyro London.
There’s no doubt that self-confidence is an important trait for advancement in business. But there’s a fine line between self-confidence and egotism, and too often those who have much success will too easily forget that it’s been a team effort to get there.
It’s not surprising, really. Most successful leaders are classic high achievers. They spent the majority of their formative years being recognised for their individual contributions – praised for being the ‘star’, the ‘one we can’t do without’.
But as they transition into a role that is as much if not more about building teams of high performers than delivering the work themselves, there is a drop-off in the individual recognition they have come to depend on to validate and confirm their place as one of the best.
It’s not dissimilar to a star footballer who retires and becomes a manager. He or she no longer needs to score the winning goal; instead, they need to field the team capable of doing it. And this means managing the egos of the various high achievers, getting them to work together and equally getting the best out of them individually.
So successful leadership today is not about lacking ego or having less personal impact. Rather, it is about redefining and reframing how and where that impact manifests while having the confidence to know the impact made, without it having to be outwardly recognised.
It’s never been more important than now for leaders to figure this out, not only to create a collaborative and effective workplace but also because the younger members of our workforce aren’t always instinctively wired for teamwork. It’s not their fault – they’ve been raised in the most me-focused world that has ever existed: a world of selfies and constant personal broadcasting, all designed to create a constant return of self-validating comments.
It’s also a generation of extreme over-confidence. This is the generation that’s been told they can do anything - and that doesn’t necessarily believe they have to do all the hard work their parents did in order to achieve money, fame, status.
It’s hard enough to convince a generation raised on instant gratification that they have to put in the time and effort to get the experience in order to achieve the next level. Now imagine trying to convince them to work as a team, and to do so if leadership is doing anything but. This generation defaults too easily to me-style working and lionises the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world for what they did on their own in their dorm rooms (ignoring the fact that in reality, a team of people made Facebook possible).
Culture is always led from the top down. So if leadership only embraces the ‘me,’ that not only reinforces a behaviour pattern the younger ranks prefer, it sets a standard that the older ranks feel compelled to embrace in order to succeed.
That’s why leadership must embrace the ‘we’. You may have fewer people to directly manage on a day-to-day basis the higher you get within an organisation, but this shouldn’t mean you take the importance of being a team player any less seriously. In fact, if anything, an executive should pay more attention to improving their team play skills the higher they climb., which means remembering some key principles.
- First, look for validation via positive reviews of your team, not of your own performance.
- Be honest about the potential conflict between personal ambition and group achievement. To maximise your team’s effectiveness, remember that team members will require individual praise and praise as a part of the team in equal measure.
- Be willing to let go. You have to create space for others rising within the ranks to fill. There is a clear distinction between the senior person who remains accessible to the client, and the one who clings onto every aspect of that client’s day-to-day account management. Be the manager, not the player.
- Safeguard your business. If clients only value you, or one person on the team, the relationship is tenuous at best, and subject to significant risk. Increase client stickiness by fielding a varied team that is valued.
- Finally, lead by example. If the leadership team doesn’t work collaboratively, showing respect for each other’s expertise, and with the appropriate give and take required, it’s like fielding a team of all-stars who all try to score the winning goal instead of passing the ball down the pitch.
Can an organisation and a leader be successful when driven by self-interest and ego? Yes. But this kind of working is less and less relevant. Employees and clients are looking for human, collaborative and effective environments. The culture that underlays this type of workplace is led from the top down, by leaders who are confident enough to be humble.