When Team Members Seize Every Opportunity To Take The Lead

Imagine a team meeting where a manager is discussing a set of problems with the teammates. Typically, the manager brings up the problem, the team members closest to it share a few details, offer updates and raise any concerns. Then, the attention reverts to the manager: He/She not only decides how the problem should be tackled, but also assigns who should do what. Such conventional management might offer the reliability that companies require, but they eclipse the need for adaptability and innovation.

Now, imagine the same meeting with just one fundamental variation: The manager willingly steps off their pedestal and allows the discussion to naturally identify the person(s) most keen on solving the problem(s). In essence, the manager and his teammates understand that it’s a level playing field and that the person leading the team efforts should be someone who’s mastered a relevant process, equipment or faced a similar challenge in the past.

Breeding Organic Leaders

Such a system helps people, irrespective of their job title, to exhibit leadership and shine individually. It makes for speedy resolution of issues when team resources are lead by someone who knows the most about the issue, instead of someone who has the bigger title or more days in the company. In other words, anyone from an intern to a senior level employee can assume the lead on any issue they feel passionate about resolving.

Here’s a case study from Semco that reveals how different members of a team organically assumed leadership in the absence of their manager: Guilherme Gusson, a manager at Semco, needed some time off from work. Luis Fernando Moreira, who is now a part of the Procurement department, belonged Guilherme’s team at that time. Talking about how their team rallied together in the absence of their manager, Moreira says they first defined how they’d each function in this whole new situation. “We started to ask ourselves how we were going to meet the demands that will likely come up,” he recalls.

The discussion started before Guilherme went away on leave and explored how the team would be structuring things; the new hires they’d be making; who’d be training them and so on. So, for instance, someone who had the confidence and the relevant experience to train new recruits, assumed the lead on developing the training program.

When Processes Find Their Leaders

In the end, different members of the team had assumed the lead on different things and their new responsibilities had naturally emerged. “Nobody came up to the team and assigned one person as the supervisor or the other as the coordinator. There was no need for that,” says Moreira.

Instead, the new situation, and the challenges it embodied, organically defined processes and the people who took responsibility for them. Over time, these newfound responsibilities often increased in value and sometimes became a permanent part of someone’s job. In such cases, they were officially included within the definition of the role.

When companies encourage such situational leadership, they create the space for new leaders to naturally emerge. Teams perform with greater agility and there’s an all-round increase in employee engagement and motivation.

Experience Builds Empathy

It’s also a great way for managers to ease themselves into a mentoring/ facilitating role, where they offer support from the sidelines. It helps employees gain confidence in their own ability to lead team efforts and it also allows specialists the chance to take the lead and help teams solve problems in their niche.

But most importantly, it creates a lot of empathy among managers and team members because they now understand the specific challenges of either roles. It also creates a wave of new managers and leaders who, in the future, know how to identify and nurture leadership within their teams.


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