#563       Innovative Leader     Volume 11, Number 10        October 2002

Your Leadership Role in Teamwork
by Stephen C. Rafe

Mr. Rafe is President of Rapport Communications of Warrenton, VA, a spokesperson-counseling firm. steve-rafe@erols.com. He is author of How to Be Prepared to Think on Your Feet (HarperBusiness, NY, 1991). 

In many ways, you are the anchor for your team as well as its leader. Your position brings with it a high level of responsibility and accountability. It also provides a great opportunity to contribute to the organi­za­tion's success in ways far beyond the appli­cation of your management and admin­istrative skills. You are in the best position to help the group fulfill its objectives.

Part of your job is to help the team plan, build them into a cohesive working unit, motivate its members, including yourself, adapt your personal style to the team's needs and preferences, and communicate effec­­tively. Let's look at each of these five skills:


Actively help them anticipate their future, set goals and objectives, and develop a plan that will get them there. Help them concentrate on tasks that will drive the team’s goals and objectives while avoiding distrac­tions. Another important part of your job is to help each of the team’s specialists perform effec­tively and integrate their particular skills with those of the other members.

Planning also includes scheduling time with one or more team members to learn how well they are fulfilling expectations. Doing so enables you to remain cur­rent on all aspects of the project and consider input from all sources and angles. This timely infor­mation is critical to knowing whether to stay on the same path or shift gears.


Members of good teams worth together interdependently to lighten one ano­ther’s load and to make work more pleasurable. You have to consider yourself not just team leader, but team member.

One key purpose of most teams is to help the organization focus on specific objectives and help bring about and build a consensus within their area of responsibility. Good teams also contribute to improved communication and under­standing. By working together toward common goals, they have the opportunity to help foster camaraderie, improve productivity, and increase members' com­mitment to the recom­mendations they make and the actions they take.


As team leader, your members need your motiva­tional skills both with the team as an entity, and with each of its members as indi­viduals. Successful moti­vators know that good workers respond better to ca­r­rots than they do to sticks. However, much bad infor­mation con­tinues to circu­late about what actu­ally motivates and what doesn’t. You have seen the lists: money ranks low, listening is high -- that kind of thing.

Be aware of differences in per­son­alities and individual drives.  Different people’s needs are satisfied at different levels, and in different ways. For example, John is quiet, keeps his own coun­sel, and rarely interacts with others. In fact, he’s admit­tedly not comfortable with all the “touchy feely” aspects of team play. To him, the project is everything. It would seem logical, then, that he would respond differently from Jenny to the same motivators if Jenny is outgoing, enjoys talking things out with others, and puts people consid­erations as a higher priority than project concerns.

If, say, your motivator were verbal praise, perhaps John might be embarrassed at being “singled out” in front to the group to be told he did something par­ticularly well. He might react by saying, “I’m just doing my job.” Jenny, on the other hand, might be particularly pleased to hear you praise her before her colleagues. In fact, she might use the moment to share the good feelings with the others by saying how they also contributed.

The need to affiliate is a more-fundamental drive than the need to achieve or lead. It must be satisfied -- again accord­ing to each individual’s own person­ality.

Team members may welcome oppor­tunities to share leadership and that’s what makes free-form, rotating leadership a popular concept. They also like to achieve. And they like to be recog­nized as confident, competent and intel­ligent. Thus, here’s a sure-fire way to motivate them at this level: Simply give them ample opportunities to prac­tice their leadership skills as you guide them toward actions that fulfill these criteria.

Some team members enjoy reinforcement more from what they do than from what others do. They enjoy activities that enable them to fulfill their potential, to do things for the chal­lenge, to be stim­ulated intellectually, to be crea­tive, to satisfy aesthe­tic needs and interests, and to acknowledge and accept reality.

These people are certainly not candidates for a happy-face, ”Badge-a-Minit (c)” button reward -- or even a certi­ficate of achievement. In fact, if the wrong person praises them, they may perceive the effort as condescend­ing or even an attempt at being manipulative.

So, as you can see, motivating others effectively depends largely on your knowledge of each indi­vidual as well as his or her per­sonality, style, ambi­tions, and personal needs.

Adapting Your Style

You are unique; you have specific skills that address your organization’s per­ceived needs and attracted its leaders to hire you. You also have a style of working with others that most likely has become an established pattern in your life. To the extent that your style of doing things ful­fills the needs of the organization and its mem­bers, you will be successful. To the extent that it needs some fine-tuning, the good news is that you can change as long as you: 1) desire to change, 2) acquire new “tools” to help get the job done, and 3) have the opportunity to use those tools.


Effective communication brings life and meaning into all we do. Effective communicators spend at least 50% of their time listening, 30% helping others express their views more clearly, only about 10% of their time telling others what they think, what to do, or how to do it -- and the other 10% wondering how to do it better next time.

A good leader listens "care-fully," that is, with care and fully. Once you signal through your words, voice tones, body language, and facial expression that you are ready to listen, show patience as the speaker expresses himself or herself. Do this no matter how long it takes the other person, and regard­less of the importance or priority you may assign to the subject. Spend an extra minute now to listen care-fully, and you may help avoid most of the conflict or potential conflict that might otherwise occur when “no­body listens.”

Earn team members' trust by remaining open, non-defensive, and nonjudgmental to whatever they say. When supervisors ask you to take actions or positions on behalf of the team, be sure you agree only to what you can deliver appro­priately. Go out of your way to provide members with both scheduled and informal oppor­tunities to give you input and feedback. Doing this helps maintain a balance of two-way communi­cation: When you have listened to them; they will be more likely to listen to you.

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