The success of a management team will depend greatly on the leader’s skills in (1) fostering open and honest communication within the team, (2) resolving conflicts so nobody loses (the “No-Lose Method”), (3) conducting efficient and productive decision-making meetings, (4) being an effective “task specialist” as well as a “human relations specialist,” and (5) being a strong and effective advocate for his group members in the team that operates one level above the one in which the leader is a group member.
Most important for team building and effective team functioning is the leaders’ success in reducing any status barriers between themselves and their group members. No other concept is more important than this. It is at the very core of my definition of leadership effectiveness. I’ll say it in the briefest way: effective leaders must behave in such a way that they come to be perceived almost as another group member; at the same time they must help all group members feel as free as the leader to make contributions and perform needed functions in the group.
If leaders are to be successful in building an effective team, they must learn specific skills that foster a climate allowing team members to feel free to speak up, make suggestions, participate actively in problem-solving—yes, and criticize the ideas of the leader. Leaders must avoid prestige-seeking behaviors that tend to increase the status differences between themselves and their group members: acting in a superior manner, behaving arrogantly, using power arbitrarily. Research has shown that such behaviors will decrease interaction between leaders and members because of the tendency of the less powerful to increase the distance between themselves and the more powerful. Group members draw away from leaders who make them feel inadequate or lower their self-esteem.
It is indeed a paradox that effective leaders act very much like group members and effective group members act like group leaders. The surest sign of a group’s effectiveness comes when the person who at first was treated as the leader later becomes seen almost as another group member. In an effective group, the contributions of all members will be evaluated on merit, not on the prestige of the contributor. Only when the leader becomes like another member will his own contributions be accepted or rejected, just like those of any other member, solely on merit. Group members then feel free to say to the leader “That’s a good idea” rather than think “That should be a good idea because it is the leader’s.”
When leaders achieve this “another member” status, they actually increase the contributions they can make to the group, because their ideas will get evaluated like those of other members. At first this may seem completely contrary to fact because we ordinarily think that people can have a more positive effect on a group if they hold on to the prestige and power of the leader position. A real case can be made for rejecting this traditional belief. We do know that leaders often have more effect on a group than any of its members, but what kind of effect?
For one thing, their contributions are often accepted uncritically by members because they feel the leader must know more than they. So if his contributions are not all good (and this is a sure bet with most leaders), the total effectiveness of the group is reduced. We also know that sometimes a leader’s contributions are rejected solely because they come from the leader. This is a common reaction to authority—as when children are “negative” to their parents. If some of the leader’s ideas are good ones, yet are rejected by the group, again the net effect will be to reduce the total effectiveness of the group.
This is why leaders actually gain more freedom to make a useful contribution after they have reduced or removed the status or prestige differential that existed between them and the group members. If they are successful, they become another productive group member, trying to make contributions whenever their knowledge or experience is appropriate and useful to the group.