One question we often ask in the groups we run on leadership and teamwork is, what are the qualities of a leader that you most admired?  We emphasise that it must be a leader that you have known.

The reason that we insist on a leader you have known is that we don’t want an arbitrary list of leadership qualities, we want qualities that people have observed and experienced.  Often, it’s hard for people to identify one leader and often that leader is not a leader from a work situation, rather someone from a sports team or social group they have been involved in.

Invariably, the list of qualities that a group generates together doesn’t come from one leader.  Few people can recollect one individual who has exhibited all the qualities that we want in a leader.

In my own 35 years in a variety of senior roles, in several companies and countries, I really can’t recall any one leader who exhibited all the traits that are regularly put forward as excellence in leadership.

A female leader stands talking at the front of a group

What qualities do you look for in a leader?

When we talk in our groups about the lack of leader role models, we generally conclude that maybe it’s impossible for one person to be a great leader to all people, all the time, and in all circumstances.

Perhaps the concept of one person acting as the leader in organisations and workplaces is a flawed concept from the start.

Leadership selection in sport

Since our program began, back with Central District Football Club in 1992, we have encouraged our sporting teams (and subsequently corporate teams) to select their leadership group.

Often, but not always, the captain / vice-captains will feature in the group, but the group will also include people from the team that are setting the example, modelling the trademark behaviours and achieving high standards. The people in the leadership group are not necessarily the best players in the team but might be described as the best ‘team players’.

We always advise that the people in the leadership group are voted on rather than being appointed by the coach or club hierarchy.  The reason for this is simple – you want a leadership group made up of people that the team members respect, admire and choose to follow.

Organisational wariness

Leadership groups are less common in businesses and organisations and I wonder why this is the case. Is it the inherent desire for hierarchy, the desire for accountability (the buck stops with this person), the desire for speedy decisions, etc.?  All of these factors can also be present with a leadership group but organisations remain wary despite what I think is a better model.

Read what happened when one of our clients decided to let their team choose their interim leader.

The advantages of a leadership group rather than an individual leader within an organisational model are many:

  • Shared responsibility for organisation outcomes across a number of senior people
  • A powerful group to drive culture within the organisation (provided all have a common purpose and clear behavioural framework)
  • Relationships shared across the organisation so that best person from the leadership group is able to handle issues at functional level
  • Support for each other on the leadership group
  • Multiple avenues for people to raise issues with the leadership group
  • More opportunities for people to be part of the organisation’s leadership – it’s not just team leaders or functional heads.

How the leadership group is formed might also be an issue for corporations.

The high performing teams we work with allow their staff to elect their leadership teams.  This means the organisation must be comfortable with empowerment rather than power. They must be comfortable with leaders who have followers rather than leaders designated only by title or skill. They must trust that employees will vote for the people who represent the direction, character and attitude the organisation desires.

Leading Teams is run by a leadership group.  Its composition has changed during its time and its purpose and clarity of function has also developed.  The drive, flexibility and consistency of the leadership team has been a stand out benefit as has the financial performance.  I can confidently say that all our staff would agree that spreading the leadership responsibilities across a broader group and creating greater openness in decision making works better for us than having a CEO.

Why don’t you try?

To find out how we can help you establish a process of leadership selection, give us a call on 03 9654 3744 today.


Simon Armstrong

Simon Armstrong

Simon worked for Leading Team from 2015-19.