Are There Bad Teams, or Just Bad Leaders?

Constantin Stanislavski said, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” It’s a way of saying that you get out of a role what you put into it. That “bit part” could end up being profoundly influential, so it’s important to give your best, whatever is required of you, big or small. Many top leaders believe in a similar concept, that there aren’t “bad” teams, but that bad teams are the creation of bad leaders.

Team leader If a team consistently underperforms, leadership may be to blame.

Much has been written about the effect of toxic people in our lives and workplaces, and sometimes those toxic people are leaders. Unfortunately, toxic leaders can spread their poison very effectively. The word “toxic” comes from a Late Latin word meaning “poisoned,” and from the Greek “toxikon” which specifically is poison used on arrows. This is a particularly apt derivation due to the targeted and destructive nature of the toxic leader. Do “bad” teams owe their dysfunction to the team members or to their leader? Some leaders believe that bad teams don’t happen on their own, but are the creation of bad leaders. Here’s the reasoning behind that.

The Effects of a Good Leader Can Continue if the Leader Leaves

Teams that have been lead competently can continue their excellent performance even after the leader is no longer with them. Legendary NCAA basketball coach Pat Summitt was an icon in the sport, and even after her retirement in 2012 the Tennessee women’s basketball program continued to excel. Of course, their new coach had worked with Summitt for many years, but clearly the philosophy and work ethic that Summitt demonstrated and taught carried on despite her retirement and death. Exceptional leadership is a legacy that tends to live on, keeping a high functioning team doing well even when the leader is gone.

Bad Leaders Can Turn Just About Any Team Bad

A toxic leader, on the other hand, can poison even the best team. You can think of the bad leader as a virus that “infects” teams that may have been heretofore healthy. A University of Washington School of Business study from 2007 found that teammates respond to a negative team member (leader or otherwise) in one of three ways:

• Motivational intervention – where people express concerns and ask the person to change behavior
• Rejection – where a team member is removed from the group
• Defensiveness – where team members accept a bad member. Resentments invariably develop, and the team loses effectiveness.

Team leader
It’s easier to purge a team of a toxic member than a toxic leader.

Obviously, motivational intervention and rejection are rarely options when the toxic person is the team leader, so the most likely outcome is a defensive, resentful team that stews in its own poison and doesn’t function well.

Things Good Leaders Do That Bad Leaders Don’t

Outstanding leaders that tend to cultivate outstanding teams, typically do several things well:

• They set and achieve goals, knowing what to delegate and what to personally oversee. Setting and achieving goals is a leader’s top responsibility, in fact.
• They work with teammates to solve problems, overcome obstacles, and make sometimes-difficult decisions.
• They have their priorities in order and are able to focus on accomplishing prioritized tasks first, assigning the right resources in the right way, at the right time.
• They truly believe in the competency of their team and inspire others to believe in the team. To do this, the leader must clearly communicate the mission and objectives needed to accomplish it.
• They work hard, pursue results, and get them.

Alexander the Great was one of the most prominent examples of a leader who led large groups of people to do things that might have been considered impossible. Not every troop under his command was exceptional, but because of his leadership, his armies accomplished more than they would have otherwise. The Macedonian army was intensely devoted to their leader, and Alexander accomplished remarkably far-reaching feats despite only living to age 32.

Dysfunctional teams may indeed have incompetent team members. But the team that seemingly cannot function is almost always a product of bad leadership. Likewise, exceptional leaders can inspire an ordinary team to accomplish the extraordinary. Bad leaders can ruin good teams, but good leaders can often get good results from teams that might not be considered effective initially. Teams of Distinction is all about turning adequate teams into powerful teams that make astonishing progress. We invite and encourage you to learn more about our Team Building Executive Coaching programs, designed to get everyone pulling in the same direction, for team results that may have been thought impossible before.

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