What about leadership I hear you ask

While a leader’s approach is important, it is the team that is central to leadership effectiveness. Ann Brewer
Ann Brewer


In 1938, Chester Barnard wrote The Functions of the Executive, (one of those classic works that most students of management would have encountered). Barnard explained that leadership is about ensuring that essential functions – establishing direction, creating structures and systems, engaging external resources – are fulfilled so that followers can focus on accomplishing the agreed and shared purpose. Almost a century later this focus remains the essence of leadership. While a leader’s approach (not personality) is important, it is the team that is central to leadership effectiveness. Leadership is not in the hands of one person, but many. It takes a collaborative team effort to realise positive outcomes and transformation and if it doesn’t why have a team at all.

Collaboration is a term used a lot today, so much so that it’s lost its meaning. Genuine collaboration means that each person exhibits teaming, working together towards a collective purpose ahead of their designated job purpose. Collaboration occurs today through people working together who are globally spread, communicating using virtual tools who distribute their time between multiple projects concurrently. Whether virtual or physical, teams need to be the right size – larger enough to have the wherewithal for the task and small enough for good communication and connection.

What defines leadership is the selecting and developing the right team and roles to get the job done. Leaders fail when they do not select the right people on the team that is, members who have the right skills and mindset to do the job; are overburdened with work, and spend unwarranted time in meetings. Leaders need to ensure that their teams include members who support the whole team, open their minds to new ideas and participate in decision making. People who undermine and engage in self-serving actions are not conducive to effective collaboration nor leadership and should not be on the team. How many leaders do you know that take the appropriate action when this is realised? Or is it more often the case that they wait until it derails and scramble around to pick up the pieces if they survive long enough to do so?

As it is becoming all too apparent today in just about every sphere of life, no one has a right to be on the team by virtue of a position title. What this means for leaders is that they need to decide who should be on the team and who should not be. Diversity in every sense is key in this process. Leaders need to ensure they know the people who are on their team or get to know them, and that requires good listening and strong connections. Even with the right people, teams require coaching from the leader and therefore the leader needs to be an adept coach.

An adept coach can facilitate and mediate the tough conversations that team members need to have with each other to get the job done. When a leader does not create the ‘space’ for these conversations and issues are glossed over, resistance sets in and even worse, compliance (complying and resisting all the way). The person who dares to speak up and query, what no one else dares, is the committed team member and all too often they are penalised for voicing or speaking for the group.

As in any interview or meeting, first impressions count. Some leaders try hard at making a good impression although the expression they ‘give off’ is quite different. People are not gullible and pick up on the expression that leaders ‘give off’. What a leader does with the group first off creates a lasting impression and sets the tone for their leadership stint. And it is only a stint. Leadership is for a fixed period, it’s not a job for life or however long the leader would like it, no matter how good they think they are. While first impressions count, it is the lasting impact that becomes the legacy of an authentic leader – serving others in every sense.

Research evidence to support my response to this question can be found in the following. I encourage you to read them.


  1. Barnard, C.I. (1938). The Functions of the Executive. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  2. Barnard, C.I. (1958). Elementary conditions of business morals. California Management Review, 1(1): 1-13.
  3. Hackman, J.R. (2011). Collaborative Intelligence: Using Teams to Solve Hard Problems. Barrett-Koehler Publishers.
  4. Wagman, R., Hackman, J.R., and Lehman, E. (2005) Team Diagnostic Survey: Development of an Instrument. Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, 41, 373-398.

First published . Last updated 1 May 2018. Disclaimer: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the University of Newcastle and its employees.

About Ann Brewer

Professor Ann Brewer is the Dean, University of Newcastle, Sydney. Her career has spanned organisational behaviour, psychology, education and business as a researcher, lecturer, and author. Her research expertise is people at work including conflict, change, leadership, commitment, stress as well as gender.

Ann is an accredited executive coach with more than 20 years of experience enhancing the performance of individuals, teams and organisations. In that capacity she designs and develops coaching programs for whole-of-organisations as well as 1:1 coaching consultations. She begins with establishing a foundation for each client to clarify their professional aims and values for developing and sustaining leadership resilience. Her coaching strategy is focused on leadership, relationship and culture building as well as dealing with thorny issues and conducting difficult conversations.

Ann’s professional background incorporates diverse programs and initiatives for individual development, team building, organisation design, and facilitation. Her practical approach to leadership and organisation development is derived from her own senior leadership positions.

Her work has been applied in diverse industry sectors such as business, education, industrial relations, human resource management, health administration, public policy, transport and logistics; banking and mining. She has led commercial facing entities including a start-up to success.

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