Thinking Differently About Team Leadership



What do team leaders actually do in working with their team—what is the focus of their attention, and how do they spend their time?   Perversely, some of the activities to which they give the most attention are negatively associated with measured team effectiveness, and activities to which they allocate less time actually are among the most helpful to their teams.  These findings, together with others in the research literature, suggest a 60-30-10 rule for team leader behavior.  Specifically, I propose that roughly sixty percent of a leader’s contribution to team effectiveness consists of things a leader does before the team even meets (i.e., preparation).  Thirty percent has to do with what a leader does at the very beginning of the team’s life (i.e., launch).  And only ten percent has to do with a leader’s hands-on coaching of the team (i.e., facilitation).  Moreover, how well a leader prepares and launches a team turns out to strongly condition the impact of his or her subsequent hands-on coaching.  These findings support a “functional” approach to leadership theory and practice.  Although simple to understand, this approach is inconsistent with lay theories of what great leaders do, as well as with standard behavioral science research paradigms.  I close by exploring the implications of the functional approach to team leadership for scholars who study it and for practitioners who do it.
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Daan van Knippenberg