Great Leaders Are Also Great Teammates

Effective leaders know when it is time to step back from being in the lead, writes emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman.

Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry.

The first time Shawn attended the monthly meeting of division heads, he was surprised at his peers’ behavior. As division head for an environmental services firm, Shawn joined six other division heads for a monthly video conference run by a company vice president. Despite the VP’s efforts to facilitate a productive discussion, several division heads hogged the air time, seemingly trying to get the VP’s approval for being assertive leaders. But none were addressing the challenges on the agenda.

Shawn wondered whether they were getting the approval they sought and speculated about what the other division leaders felt about the issues they were there to discuss. So when he attended his second division head meeting he was curious to see if the first meeting was an anomaly or the norm. He was disappointed to see the same dysfunctional pattern repeated.

He was frustrated, seeing the meetings as a waste of his time and counterproductive in terms of creating any meaningful outcomes. Yet, newly promoted to his position, he didn’t want to appear critical of the VP’s facilitation abilities.

What do those leaders lack?

Effective leaders know when it is time to step back from being in the lead. Along with having leadership abilities, they also are adept at being skillful team members and value hearing the perspectives of others. Clearly, some of Shawn’s peers didn’t have those skills.

When Richard Boyatzis and I developed our competency model of emotional and social intelligence, we realized that being an effective team member is a separate skill from taking the lead. A crucial competency for all leaders, the Teamwork competency is the ability to work with others toward a shared goal, participating actively, sharing responsibility and rewards, and contributing to the capability of the team as a whole. You empathize and create an atmosphere of respect, helpfulness, and cooperation. You can draw others into active commitment to the team's effort.

It's not just teams. This competency holds the key to collaboration of any kind.

Building your Teamwork capacity

How can you build your capacity for being an effective team member? First, become aware of your own behaviors. Are you too vocal or dominant? Do you interrupt others before they can finish a thought? Or are you too reserved? Do you hold back opinions that you later wish you’d shared? Observe yourself more carefully in the next meeting, and aim to manage yourself so that you bring your energy level up or down as needed in order to best contribute to the objectives of the team.

Jotting down notes of what you’d like to say can help restrain your impulse to speak first, or ensure that you make your viewpoint known. You can also notice who hasn’t spoken and ask them to share their thoughts on the issue at hand. If you realize that the meeting itself has gotten off track, suggest a return to the agenda, refocusing the team’s attention on the topic at hand.

Back to Shawn’s dilemma. He finally decided to speak to the vice president about his observations and was relieved to find the VP responsive. Together they strategized about how to improve the meetings, making sure the team kept its focus, everyone got a chance to speak—and the airtime hogs kept their contributions brief.