Autodesk_Company_Photo_1990, Autodesk, Andrew Stein, SteinVox, It's the team, not just the leaderWhere are the “team of the year” awards for business, innovation, and commercial team leadership and achievement? We have team sports awards, but too rarely do we open our favorite business or industry magazine and read about a team achieving great commercial things.

There probably is a team award presented by some institution, but it’s not the mainstream. With all the great development and research about servant leadership and the #humanbiz, it’s time to start thinking how we’re going to re-assign the term “leadership” to apply to teams, and their accomplishment.

In the end, the great achievement by most leaders is not just their vision and action, but also that of the team around them that did the work.

The irony of “leader of the year” and other awards that glorify individuals is that leadership is not about leaders, it is about the teams they lead.

True Story: Leadership Press

I have intimate knowledge about what it takes to win a major magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award like Forbes, INC and other magazines. It’s a grueling project, taking patience, great public relations, significant effort and lots of rich (well scrubbed) content that elevates a unique story.

The stories are usually the same – one of rags-to-riches or of individual hardship and loss, turning around through unique individual perseverance. We’ve all read these cover stories. It’s not hard to imagine what team effort was required to pull together random disconnected bits of history and words into what reads like visionary wisdom. The result is the eye catching cover headline and the inside heart moving story work.

Many of these winners go on to write books about their story. Books that conveying a a personal story veiled as success and achievement primarily resulting from that one individual’s leadership. I’m not taking anything away from that – it sells books, and creates celebrity all of which are good things to do. I’m just pointing out the obvious that it’s the team, not just the leader.

The Question and Challenge

Woodbourne Software, Autodesk, Andrew Stein, SteinVox, It's the team, not just the leaderWhere are the Forbes, Fortune, Bloomberg, Businessweek and INC magazine articles profiling great teams, and the collaboration that the collective whole is greater than the sum of the parts? Where are the articles and stories where the C-level and VP executive leaders point out they were honored help enable a team to achieve greatness?

As I read what is written in the trade press and academia on achievement, I am amazed at how little perspective (and credit) is given to the team. Perhaps it is because it takes more effort and printed pages to do it. Perhaps it is the sensationalism that audiences pay for.

I find it interesting to observe the subordination of people (on their teams) as many leaders highlight themselves, over the quantum effect that could happen in their organization if they were to call out the members of their team that innovated, collaborated and actually delivered.

Change the Ratio

I don’t mean to imply that we should not have the current focus on individuals. My challenge is to change the ratio and increase the number of stories on the team.

Teams have greater effect and achieve more than individuals. There has to be value to be created and captured in terms of culture, community, opportunity and even economics, by driving greater interest through media in being part of a team. We can’t all live at the top of the hierarchy.

To Ponder

There’s an anecdotal story published here and there. However, the majority of what we read and hear on leadership is about what “great leaders must do to be recognized as great achievers.” The majority of cover stories are about “entrepreneur of the year” or “innovator of the month.”

I am always in awe of truly design-thinking leaders that has the ultimate vision and willful humility to redirect any applause pointing to the team saying “they did it all; it was an honor to serve them as their leader.”

The GDP, and economic recovery, depends on teams, collaboration, working together, trust, compromise, and human (#humanbiz) skills not just individuals who may even think they did it all taking credit for it as if super-human.

It’s human nature to want the stage and limelight. I’m guilty of that myself. But, I still ask: when will the book be written by the servant leader that signs the author’s name as “The Team.”

The Photos

I’ve scanned photos from my career archive. The smaller group is a photo of the integration team for the Woodbourne acquisition into the Autodesk machine ultimately creating the Manufacturing Division. It’s hard to tell, but the leader is taking the photo – not in the picture – thereby giving the credit to the team. The larger group is the company photo of the Autodesk team, around 1989/90. The founders had just been featured on the cover of Businessweek and at this time, The Wall Street Journal was calling Autodesk an unruly, lucky “cabal of programmers.” The picture is of the people that did the work.

3 Responses to Leadership: It’s The Team: Not Just The Leader

  1. […] Leadership: #humanbiz, Let's re-assign the term “leadership” from individuals to to apply to teams, and their accomplishment.  […]

  2. JT Pedersen says:

    Hello Andrew,

    Convenient timing. In my article tomorrow, I spend a moment underscoring the fact we all stand upon the shoulders of others in our various achievements.

    It is not to diminish the true success of the individual. Rather it is important to appreciate that, no matter how great the achievement, it does not happen in a vacuum.  Donald Trump, an excellent example of success, is the name we know.  But as seen in The Apprentice, he relies on an entire cast of characters in order to succeed.

    Good piece. Am happy to cite and link to it tomorrow. 🙂



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