Leadership plays a significant role in the overall team success for several reasons. Leaders, good ones at least, define the vision, mission, values, goals, roles, and expectations for the team. Referring to Tuckman’s stages of team development (Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing), these are all things that need to take place in the forming stage. This is the foundation from which all else will be built. Start with a shaky foundation and your team will crumble in the first storm. Build a solid base and your team can withstand great force.
A leader’s job ultimately is to make the team successful. Leaders are coaches and mentors; they help keep teams on track, remove barriers and prepare the ground so the team can perform unhindered.
Conversely, leaders can also create a toxic environment that leads to total team destruction and failure. Sometimes this is due to incompetence and sometimes leaders simply use bad tactics because they think they are right.
In my soon to be released book, Learning In Thin Air (the same title as my keynote), I share stories of good and bad leaders and the impact they had on overall team success.
On one of my first real big Himalayan expeditions I was unable to get any of my long-time climbing partners to join me. I was forced to sign on with a professionally led trip. This trip brought together a group of highly-experienced strangers with a common goal, and then added a team leader. We would not be using Sherpa support and our leader was not a guide, but someone there to coach and mentor us, and to help us navigate our way through the complex world of 8,000m climbing. Our leader did not lay a foundation of trust and communication, but actually alienated all of us, drove a wedge between team members and destroyed trust. There was no plan, no vision and no sharing of information. This very long story ends in epic failure. Not a single team member made it to the summit and it had nothing to do with skill, experience, fitness or weather. It had everything to do with the toxic environment created by our team leader and the resulting total breakdown of team function.
At the time I placed the blame solely on our leader. But, in time, I realized that my own inaction had also played a part in our failure. I had done nothing to counteract what was happening within our team. I just sat back and played the part of the helpless victim.
I learned immensely from this experience and have applied this learning to all future expeditions and in business as well. In my next blog, I will share a success that grew from this leadership failure.