Leadership challenge: 4 ways to flip the ownership from the leader to the team

“One of the greatest compliments given to me during my rugby days was following a training session in England when a rather embarrassed Australian journalist approached me. He informed me that one of the Fringe Wallabies* had told him that it was in fact the players and the assistant coaches who did the most of the work and came up with the majority of ideas.

Little did the journalist realise that I had just been paid the greatest compliment possible. At that moment I knew it had all come together. As a leader my absolute aim was to have a business that was able to run itself. In rugby my aim was to reach the level where the players believed they were capable of coming up with their own ideas and running the show with the help of the assistant coaches. I had the opportunity to look at the bigger picture and plan for the future.”

(*Wallabies is the name of Australia’s national Rugby Union team)

Rod Macqueen, Introducing the book:
Exploding Sports Myths, George Shirling (2010)

Leadership has changed. In the era of teamwork and collaboration the best leaders recognise that they don’t know everything about the business. Today’s leaders ask their team:

“How can I help you?”

I am one of those strange people who are energised by good meetings, with clear outcomes and action that bring change. I guess it’s because I enjoy mobilising people around ideas and helping the ideas become a reality. These meetings are active.The ones I find most frustrating are passive, where the people around the table are awaiting the directives from on high. This is a culture, one that needs to change.

The role of the leader today is to empower and equip the team to succeed. This transfers ownership and broadens responsibility for the task.

Take this pop quiz

1. Do you come to a meeting with the answers?

2. Does your team expect you to direct them?

3. Do you expect your team to bring ideas to a meeting?

4. Do you need to (individually) own the success?

The industrial-era model of leadership was based on the assumption that those in charge were also the ones who knew what to do – active leadership led to passive followers. After all, isn’t why they had the big chair in the corner office, the big boss knew it all.

Today, knowledge, experience and ideas are shared. I lead my team, but definitely know I don’t have the answers. My team look to me for the big picture direction, the filter through which all our ideas are run, but they have so much more to offer than I could possibly direct.

How can you change the culture of your team?

Maintain the clarity of your message: How can I help you? This simple question empowers your team and gives them responsibility for the team’s success.

Transfer ownership: Expect your team to come up with ideas and strategies. Clarity of vision, mission and values provide the framework for ideas to flourish.

Ask the question, shut up and let go: How can I help you? It is tempting to keep talking and control the discussion, but if the framework is clear, let the ideas flow.

Adopt the mirror/window* approach to success: When there is success, look out the window and give away responsibility, when things go awry, look in the mirror and accept responsibility – because life is tough at the top. (*characteristic of Jim Collins Level 5 Leaders)

As Rod Macqueen showed, when a leader releases control and broadens influence there is a greater buy-in from the team and greater success. He was one of Australia’s most successful coaches who filled the trophy cabinet for our nation. He brought his unique leadership culture from business to the sporting field.

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