Tag Archive for team leadership

Let the People Speak

I have discovered that the book of Ezra is chock full of lessons and illustrations on leadership. Back in June of this year, I posted a lesson on team leadership (Ezra’s Model of Team Leadership) from chapters 7 and 8. In my study of the book, I have also found application to many other leadership principles and concepts, like strategic planning, overcoming obstacles, building motivation, and more. One particular lesson, which is illustrated in the events that take place in chapter 10, verses 7 through the end of the chapter, specifically speaks to a leadership principle that I blogged about last week, called Give People a Voice.

If we walk through the passage verse by verse, what we see is a great picture of the importance and value of leaders giving people a voice in the process. Verses 7 and 8 set the stage, describing how Ezra gathers everyone together. A proclamation is sent throughout the area instructing people to come to a central location for what will be an important meeting. They are given three days to arrive and gather, and the proclamation includes a rather severe ultimatum to ensure that people come. The important components that are immediately evident for our understanding of leadership are these: 1) make sure to include those who will be affected, so that the ones who will be impacted have an opportunity to have a voice; 2) provide a time and place for the dialogue to take place, making sure that the availability of those invited is taken into consideration; and 3) provide a motivation that underscores the importance of the meeting, increasing the likelihood of the right people being there.

Once gathered together (v. 9) – and notice that the attendees recognized the importance of this discussion – Ezra stood in front of everyone present and briefly explained the basic issue and the needed outcome (vv. 10-11). In their case, it was the sin of unfaithfulness to God, requiring confession, repentance, obedience, and separation. The example it provides helps us to see that people need to have a clear and understandable idea of what the issue is and what the outcome needs to be. Before people can give input, it is the responsibility of the leader to communicate and summarize so that everyone involved can understand and engage. And clearly, Ezra did this well, because the response of the people (v. 12) was a resounding “Yes! We are on board and we will do it!”

At this point, the people are given the opportunity to speak into the situation (vv. 13), and the discussion that ensues is a wonderful representation of the importance of giving people a voice. They have heard the issue and the needed outcome, they have expressed absolute support, but they also recognized that there are some factors that need to be considered in the process, because those factors will affect their ability to accomplish the goal. In their stituation, they identified the problem of volume – how many and how much (“there are many people,” and “there are many of us who have transgressed”) – and the problem of physical circumstances (“it is the season for heavy rain”). Very often, it is those who are on the ground floor and in the trenches who are best able to understand what is being faced and how it will impact those involved. The leader may be the one who is best able to “zoom out” and see the big picture, but once you “zoom in,” the people who are carrying out the work of the tasks may be best able to see the details and provide input. They will see things that you miss, and so if they are not given the opportunity to speak, you may be creating obstacles that can greatly hinder the likelihood of accomplishing the goals.

But it didn’t end there. The people knew the obstacles that were causing a challenge, so they were able to offer ideas to solve those issues (v. 14). They proposed a solution that addressed the problem of volume and allowed for the disruption caused by the physical circumstances. Because they were empowered to speak, they got behind the leadership and took ownership of the issue and the solution. Their solution, based on their first-hand knowledge of the circumstances, included identifying representative leaders, arranging a schedule and time frame, establishing a process, and clearly communicating the purpose. This provides a great example of the result and benefit of giving people a voice. When they have the opportunity to participate and contribute, they buy in and take ownership. When that happens, you will have their support and involvement and have a much higher probability of accomplishing the tasks. And keep in mind, because they may have the best picture of the details, they can provide valuable input into a workable solution.

Verses 16 through the end of the chapter reveal that the leaders listened to the people and took their input into consideration when determining the action steps. They then followed that established process, completed the plan, and achieved the goals. But before that happened, verse 15 points out an interesting side note: the proposed solution did not have unanimous support. Several leaders of the people opposed the idea, including at least one spiritual leader. One of them, Meshullam, is also mentioned in Nehemiah 3:4 as someone who was helping to repair the wall in Jerusalem, so I don’t think these individuals were opposed to the goal, just to the process that was proposed. This gives us a good picture of how the process operates in organizations (and how the body of Christ operates): there will likely never be full agreement on anything, but giving the people a voice will bring the best ideas, and it is then the responsibility of the leadership to filter the responses, seek God, and determine the direction. As Seth Godin says in Tribes, “Listen, really listen. Then decide and move on” (2008, p. 128).

Ezra’s leadership shows us the value of giving people a voice. If we don’t do the same, we only make our job more difficult. So I say, “Let the people speak.”

What is Team Leadership?

Peter Northouse defines a team as “a specific type of group composed of members who are interdependent, who share common goals, and who must coordinate their activities to accomplish these goals.” (2013, p. 287) He goes on to say that good teams fulfill two primary functions, one related to tasks, and the other related to people.  He succinctly says, “Two critical functions of team effectiveness are . . . performance (task accomplishment) and development (maintenance of team),” (p. 299)  In this type of leadership, the role of the leader is team oversight; specifically, to help the team accomplish its goals by monitoring, diagnosing, and acting.  This often involves distributed leadership, which is the distribution of leadership roles and responsibilities to the most appropriate team member at any given time.

Team Leadership Theory is not really about how a team leads, but rather how a leader leads a team.  Hill’s Model for Team Leadership provides a good explanation of this theory.  It begins with the leader’s mental model, which involves three steps in navigating a problem in the function of the team:  identifying the problem, understanding the context, and determining the possibilities.  The model then progresses to the decisions that a leader must make regarding the problem, whether or how to intervene and improve team function.  He must decide whether to simply monitor the situation, or to take action.  He must determine if the issue is internal – in which case he will need to diagnose or repair – or external – in which case he will need to forecast or prevent.  If he must intervene, he must determine if the intervention is for task or relational needs (or for environmental issues), which will in turn effect the actions he must take.

The basic idea is that it is the leader’s responsibility to monitor the team and its activity to ensure that it is functioning well, and if – or when – it is not, to determine what steps to take to address the issue and get the team back on track.  He must be able to see and understand the problem that exists in the team (and whether it is related to task, people, or environment) and determine what is the most appropriate response or corrective action.  Given the value of teams in an organization (which is another discussion), this is an important skill set for leaders.  An understanding of Team Leadership Theory has helped me to become more effective at leading my teams, and I would encourage you to grow in this area as well.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.



Quotable (Peter Northouse, Leadership: Theory and Practice)

“Effective team performance begins with the leader’s mental model of the situation.  This mental model reflects not only the components of the problem confronting the team, but also the environmental and organizational contingencies that define the larger context of team action, . . . and what solutions are possible in this context.” (Northouse, 2013, p. 290)

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.


Put the Right People Where They Fit

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and Great by Choice, famously said that an effective leader gets the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. (2011; 2001)  Usually, this concept is only applied to the general hiring process in organizations, as HR departments and hiring managers make every effort to employ the right people in the company.  However, I believe it is just as important to take it to a micro-level, and apply the same principles to the formation of your team.  When it comes to your team, those principles are, quite simply:  get the right people, and put the right people in the right place.

It begins by getting the right people on your team, and this happens in two ways.  First, identify those people that need to be on your team, and get them on board.  A good leader will learn to understand his personal strengths and abilities, as well as his own “gaps,” knowing that “without an awareness of your strengths, it’s almost impossible for you to lead effectively.” (Rath & Conchie, 2008, p. 10)  He also needs to understand the strengths of those around him, especially where those strengths are different than his.  With those pieces of information, an effective leader is intentional about identifying and placing people on his team that will provide a full range of strengths and abilities.  Where leaders make a mistake is  in choosing people without consideration of how they fit, when people are not “recruited to [the] executive team because their strengths are the best complement to those of the existing team members.” (Rath & Conchie, 2008, p. 21)

The second piece of getting the right people on your team is to remove the wrong people from the team.  These wrong fits to the team may be immediately evident, or may become apparent over time.  “Effective executives know this and check up (six to nine months later) on the results of their people decisions.  If they find that a decision has not had the desired results, they don’t conclude that the person has not performed.  They conclude, instead, that they themselves made a mistake.”  (Drucker, 2011, p. 30) When it becomes clear that someone is then not a good fit, it is time to take them off the team, but a truly outstanding leader will go one step further.  Because he has learned and understood that team member and his or her strengths and weaknesses (at least, enough to know that they do not fit on the team), a great leader will not simply usher that person off the bus, but will help get him on the right bus.  He will help that person move to the place where he best fits, whether that be within the organization, or perhaps even in some other organization.

With the right people on your team, the next step is to make sure that they are in the right place on the team, functioning according to the gifts they bring to the group.  There are a variety of personality and strengths assessments (Myers-Briggs, DISC, StrengthsFinder, etc.), but the underlying premise of all of them as that there are different personality types and strengths (that makes sense, doesn’t it?).  The application of this premise is that those different personality types and strengths will function best in different roles.  Some may be better at analyzing and mapping, others at motivating, or administrating, or planning, or connecting, or any number of other skill sets.  Part of the purpose of having a full range of strengths on the team is so that the leader can assign tasks and responsibilities based on those strengths, and so that, in turn, the team members are each operating at their highest capability, enjoyment, and fulfillment.  Often, when it becomes evident that the team is not functioning well, it is because the leader “didn’t put the right people on the job.” (Drucker, 2011, p. 31)

The most successful – and, incidentally, the most enjoyable – teams on which I have participated have been those that have had a balanced combination of strengths and abilities; so much so, that when a team member left, I became very intentional about searching for a replacement that filled in the right gaps for those that remained.  I have learned my strengths, and I know that I will do best when I can fully operate within those abilities; therefore I know I need to seek out people with abilities that will complement mine.  When that happens, we perform well, we work together well, and we accomplish much.

Collins, J. (2011). Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (pp. 115-136). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap–and others don’t. New York: Harper Business.

Drucker, P. F. (2011). What makes an Effective Executive HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (pp. 23-36). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. New York, NY: Gallup Press.


Ezra’s Model of Team Leadership

As I have studied the book of Ezra (and I’m not sure why I did, but I think it had something to do with being struck by a particular verse – Ezra 7:10 – which in turn piqued my interest and led to a lengthy study) I have learned many lessons that were personally valuable for my spiritual growth.  Beyond that, though, I have also identified a significant number of lessons that I thought were particularly applicable to leadership, and especially to Christian leadership.  One of those leadership lessons that struck me involved Ezra’s approach to team leadership.

I think it helps to understand the entire context:  The book of Ezra describes some of the events surrounding two stages of a return to Jerusalem by the Israelites.  The first stage involved a group returning in order to rebuild the temple, and the second (nearly 60 years later) involved a smaller group that returned in order to rebuild the spiritual condition of the people.  Ezra – considered to be the author of the whole book – is actually only specifically involved in the return of the second group, described in chapters 7 through 10.  More pointedly, chapters 7 and 8 describe the preparation of Ezra for that return, the assembling of his team, and the carrying out of the mission given to his team.  In application to lessons on team leadership, this points to the three components of a team that are evident in these chapters: the leader of the team, the team, and leadership of the team.

Chapter 7 introduces us to the leader of the team, Ezra, and clearly presents his preparation for leadership in verse 10, which says, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.” (The Holy Bible:  New King James Version, 1979) This verse points out a sequential, three-step process of development that I believe is essential for the development of any individual Christian leader.  Step one is “learn.” In a general sense, any leader of a team needs to learn the history and context related to the organization and the strengths and characteristics of the team members, and needs to understand the issues to be faced.  But at a deeper (and more important) spiritual level, the Christian must learn to know God.  He needs regular, intimate time with God, because this is what gives him the capability to lead.  Step two is “live.” This means that the actions of the leader must reflect what he has learned with authenticity.  He must “walk the talk,” demonstrating consistency between values and actions, and this is what gives him the credibility to lead.  It is only after growing deep in his relationship with God, and then applying and reflecting God’s truth in his life, that he can move on to step three, which is to lead by teaching, guiding, and showing others the way.

Chapter 8 introduces us to the team, specifically in verses 15 through 18. Here we see that Ezra, before beginning any tasks or moving forward, took time to look at the people around him and gather his team together.  The first thing he noticed is what he was missing on his team: spiritual leaders (“I looked among the people and the priests, and found none of the sons of Levi there.”) The rest of the team was made up of two different groups: 1) those he described as “leaders,” the ones who had previously demonstrated effective leadership ability and experience, and 2) those he described as “men of understanding,” or those with a gift of insight and understanding who would be advisors and counselors (the term “understanding” is the same one used to describe the wisdom and discernment granted to Solomon in I Kings 3:9-12).  With these two segments of the team in place, Ezra selected a spiritual leader, and specifically one with discretion, before setting up the plan for the mission.  Ezra knew that he had to have, as Peter Northouse explains in Leadership: Theory and Practice (2013), the right number and mix to have an effective team.  Therefore he was very intentional about putting together a combination of people who would meet the specific needs of the mission, reflecting the idea that “the most cohesive and successful teams possess broader groupings of strengths.” (Rath & Conchie, 2008, p. 22)  He didn’t move forward until he had the right team in place, a team that was willing to submit to God and follow Ezra’s leadership. In the words of Jim Collins, he “got the right people on the bus, moved the wrong people off, ushered the right people to the right seats – and then [he] figured out where to drive it.” (2011, p. 124)

This takes us to the final piece of this puzzle: leadership of the team, which is presented in chapter 8, verses 21 through 31. Ezra had prepared himself and assembled the right people for his team, and now they had a mission to accomplish.  While the task was to be carried out by the team, not an individual, he as the leader of this team knew it was his responsibility to make sure they effectively accomplished the goal, and there were four components that he incorporated into that leadership.  First, he set the example – specifically, a spiritual example – in attitude and humility, recognizing God’s sovereignty in their task (vv. 21-23).  Then he assigned responsibility, by dividing up the resources that were to be carried by his team, and giving them their instructions (vv. 24-30).  Third, he provided motivation, reminded them of who they were and of the magnitude of their task (v. 28).  Finally, he maintained unity in the group, as they undertook the mission together (v. 31).

As a Christian leader, these are significant and important lessons for your leadership development.  First and foremost, intentionally recognize and submit to God’s sovereign activity, purpose, and process in your life, in the team, and in the task.  Make sure – and this one is absolutely critical – you are aggressively pursuing an intimate relationship with God, and living a life consistent with God’s truth.  Intentionally gather the right people around you, including those with leadership ability and those with wisdom, but especially include spiritual leaders who are humble and committed to God.  Then, and only then, lead your team.

Collins, J. (2011). Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (pp. 115-136). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

The Holy Bible:  New King James Version. (1979). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. New York, NY: Gallup Press.


Strengths-Based Leadership (Rath & Conchie)

Strengths Based Leadership book coverStrengths-Based Leadership, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, is a product of extensive Gallup research on the topic of leadership strengths, with the premise that “the path to great leadership starts with a deep understanding of the strengths you bring to the table.” (2008, p. 3)  This book comes with an access code for taking the strengths assessment, StrengthsFinder 2.0, from which you can receive a personalized strengths-based leadership guide that describes your own strengths and explains how they can help you maximize your leadership.

The book presents three key behaviors of effective leaders:

  1. Effective leaders are always investing in strengths; they focus on and invest in the individual strengths of themselves and their employees;
  2. Effective leaders surround themselves with the right people, and then maximize their team; they understand that, while the best leaders are not necessarily well-rounded, the best teams are;
  3. Effective leaders understand their followers’ needs; people follow leaders for very specific reasons, and the best leaders meet those needs.

The accumulation of research behind this book revealed four distinct domains of leadership strength:  executing, influencing, relationship-building, and strategic thinking.  The most effective teams are those with contributing strengths from all four of these domains.  Therefore it makes sense that effective leaders are intentional about identifying the strengths of those around them, and about surrounding themselves with a combination of strengths that allow the team to accomplish more than what could be done by any one individual.  The StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment identifies your five predominant strengths and the domains in which they fall, and when the assessment is used by everyone on the team, it provides a map of the team’s strengths.

I was first exposed to Strengths-Based Leadership through a leadership conference several years ago.  I completed the assessment, and found the resulting description to be both accurate and helpful, and therefore found it beneficial for enhancing my leadership.  It was much more valuable for me, though, when I involved my team.  When I provided the assessment to the other members of my team and mapped the results, two things happened.  First, it confirmed and affirmed that my team was a very effective team, when it revealed that we were balanced and well-rounded, with strengths from each of the domains.  Second, by clearly identifying where our strengths were different, it made me more effective as a leader in delegating tasks and responsibilities to the appropriate team members.  The end result:  my good team became better.  For this reason, I think this particular tool can be quite valuable for you and your team.

Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. New York, NY: Gallup Press.