Great Leaders vs. Great Team Members – and Why Your Company Needs Both

When we talk about a great leader, we tend to think about someone who is a great communicator and team builder. He or she is open-minded and innovative, forward-thinking and risk-taking, transparent and approachable.

Well, a great leader is also something else: A team player who takes a holistic view of a company and refuses to work in a silo. I was recently reminded of how critical this skill is to the success of a company after reading a fascinating article by Peter Bregman in Psychology Today.

Peter is a consultant, and several years ago he was brought in to a help a $350 million technology company that had grown stagnant. The CEO believed the solution was simple: better develop his direct reports, who lead the company’s various departments.

As it turns out, that was not the solution. Peter found that each department head was a phenomenal leader: they were smart, capable, communicative, strategic people. So, Peter decided to sit in on a company meeting. Within 15 minutes, he had discovered the problem.

These great leaders were not team players. Far from it. As Bregman wrote:

“Each leader ran his organization successfully, aggressively pursuing his organization’s interests. And each one succeeded in meeting – often exceeding – hisgoals. Each one was committed to – and cared deeply about – his organization’s performance.

“But that’s all they cared about – their own organizations. They were impressive as leaders, but destructive as a leadership team.”

This company’s leaders were all too happy to work in silos, looking out for their own but not for the company as a whole. They did not want to help each other, just blame each other.

Peter put in place a plan to turn these leaders into great team players. Not everyone made it – some people left or were let go – but the efforts succeeded. This software company grew from approximately $350 million in revenue to about $1 billion, and the stock price went from around $10 per share to around $80 per share. Wow!

In my next blog post, I’ll discuss the 3 G’s of team-focused leadership that Peter put in place at this software company, but until then, turn a critical eye to your own company. Are the smart, capable leaders on your management team also great team players? Do they collaborate, or do they work in silos? Could they be holding your company back from achieving explosive growth?  How do you encourage collaboration?

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