A couple of days ago, a fascinating exercise emerged from one of my coaching sessions. An activity we used to explore the many faces of leadership when the leader is NOT the boss, e.g., doesn’t have an organizational mandate.

We first brainstormed all the situations in which a leader emerges or might be needed. And then explored what it meant for my colleagues in their day-to-day work.

Here was the initial question: What are the different leader-personas which can emerge/be needed in a self-managed team?

Here’s the list we came up with. The list was later extended by a few other items by my mentor Udo:

  1. Figurehead, ready to represent the team toward the outside, especially when the stakes are high
  2. Tie-breaker, helping others make decisions and keep momentum, avoiding analysis-paralysis
  3. Visionary, able to make you want to dream even bigger
  4. Firefighter, stepping up to any challenge when it’s really needed and motivating others to follow them
  5. Expert, bringing facts and clarity in complex topics
  6. Trust Creator, the one going first in showing vulnerability
  7. Confidant, teammates feel confident opening up to them
  8. Voice of the oppressed, stepping up for those who need it most
  9. Organizer, bringing the required structure so that the rest can emerge organically
  10. Aggregator & networker, pulling information from the outside so that the team has all the information it needs
  11. Devil’s advocate, pushing hard when we would prefer to ignore it
  12. Bringing calmness when emotion takes over.
  13. Challenger, making you jump over your shadow and grow as a person
  14. Mediator, a catalyst for mitigating/resolving conflict
  15. Teacher, Mr. Miagi or Mr. Keating for you/your team
  16. Executor, the one who enforces the consequences when someone breaks your code of honor
  17. Role Model, a person that leads by example
  18. Fanboy/Fangirl - A person who shows that they admire what you do and who you are
  19. yltnereffid sgniht od eno taht uoy swohs ohw enoemoS :rekniht xob eht fo tuO (backward thinking made-in-Udo at its best)

Are we still missing some?

In a very hierarchical organization, we would expect a leader to assume most of those stances. But those days are long gone. In self-managing organizations, all you need to take the lead is to gain the mandate of your teammates regarding one of those aspects.

As a second exercise, we explored the answers to the following questions:

  1. What are your three strongest leadership aspects?
  2. What are your three weakest leadership aspects?
  3. Which three aspects do you like to assume most?
  4. Which three aspects do people turn to you for?
  5. Which three aspects are you currently working on improving?
  6. Which three aspects are you underutilizing?
  7. Which three aspects are the easiest to assume while being part of a team?
  8. Which three aspects are the easiest to take while NOT being part of a team?
  9. Which three aspects are the hardest to assume while being part of a team?
  10. Which three aspects are the hardest to assume while NOT being part of a team?

I found this discussion fascinating. Crossing the answers and asking follow-up questions like “what are the clues that make you think this?” was particularly insightful.

Since then, one of my colleagues created a poll to ask 4-5 colleagues for their opinion on questions 1, 6, and an extended one: “What stance should/could I assume to help you in your daily work better?”

I’m looking forward to talking with him about the answers.

Thanks, V, F, and Udo, for your input and for playing along with this impromptu game!