Last month, I wrote about how great leaders are defined by their team. You can have amazing skills in leadership, but you will never be viewed as great if you lead a middle-of-the-road team. Many readers contacted me about the topic, and one of the questions they asked was about what I'd call "nurture or nature" in leadership: Are they a so-so team because you can't lead them effectively, or are you a so-so leader because you decided to lead them? Did you fail to nurture them, or did they fail to find greatness on their own?
I'm not talking about whether great leaders are born that way. I'll leave that big topic for another day, because there are too many variables. I'm just addressing the idea of whether a team makes you a great leader or if great leaders make great teams.
In leadership, you have to take stock of your skills. You have to look around at your team. You have to think about your growth. If you are not constantly evolving, you will find you are standing still and everyone around you will wonder why you aren't that effective.
Let's say you arrive at the conclusion that your team is not that great. Or, you decide that you are not that great of a leader. OK. You will have to accept the fact that both conditions (nurture a team, great by nature) must exist. They go hand-in-hand.
Think about this in terms of sports. A losing team will never make you look like a great leader. And, a poor leader will never make a team great. You will only be carried out on the shoulders of the team after a major championship victory if you are leading champions. (That is, unless you screw things up and call the wrong play at the end of the game.) Two conditions must exist: You must be great and the team must be great.
I have a good example of how this worked for me. I once led a team of really smart designers. Frankly, I had no reason to be their boss. They were self-sufficient. Yet, I had to make some tough decisions on their behalf, and the team grew and our projects were successful. What happened is that I became a great leader because of the team. I rose to the challenge. This was more than just an appearance of greatness. Because they were so smart and capable, I became smart and capable. I didn't wallow in employee conflicts, trying to put out fires and keep people from gossiping. I didn't have to fire anyone. I soared on their wings.
It's one of those "both and" answers. Anyone who wants to be a great leader needs a great team and you need the right skills. A great team makes you look great, but you can only look great if you are great. You could prove this by having a sub-par coach take over for the New England Patriots and try to lead the team to the Super Bowl. And, you could prove this by having Bill Belichick try to take over a crappy team.
There is a lot of give and take here. A friend of mine is great leader who is highly skilled and capable. He hand-picked his staff over the past 20 years. He has ushered a few people into different roles or quietly "encouraged" them to pursue other opportunities. (Amazingly, he has rarely if ever had to fire anyone.) It's as though he is letting the team excel and basking in the glory of being in their presence on a daily basis and at the same time; at other times, he is correcting behavior, encouraging the team, motivating them, and revealing that he has some incredible leadership talents.
I meet with leaders constantly. I'm always impressed by someone like my friend who has a rich set of talents and a capable team. In some ways, it doesn't even matter who gets the credit, since maybe the team became great on their own, maybe the leader picked them, or maybe he or she was the one who helped them achieve that greatness. Who cares? The good news is that you win in any scenario. Just know that both have to exist.
What about you? Did you pick your team? Are they exceling to greatness? Can you make some changes or even move into a different role in order to meet my conditions of greatness? It requires some self-analysis and an ability to analyze your team fairly. My advice is to take the risks you need to take. Greatness awaits.