Contrary to the view of more despotic school headteachers, leadership is never about one person. Every leader needs a team around them, not just to ensure their vision is rolled out but also to offer support, advice and ideas. And, because the team's role is varied, the people who make up that team must be varied, too. The temptation for many leaders is to appoint a team in their own image but this is a road to disaster.
Despite being published more than three decades ago, in Management Teams: why they succeed or fail, the findings of the British management guru Meredith Belbin are still relevant. He identified nine roles needed for a team to work effectively, which can be further categorised into four groups and tend to be mutually exclusive, so the prospect of one person fulfilling all of them is unlikely. The groups are as follows:
Ideas people who look at how things can be done better, more efficiently and cheaply, and quicker. They are always open to possibilities, with very good communication and motivational skills. They are also readily liked by most people they meet.
People who can bring shape to jobs that need doing. They get a workable structure in place and are not afraid of hard choices. They are usually calm, confident and self-controlled, with a sense of objectives and an ability to respond quickly to challenges.
Those who care about others and are unafraid to show it. They work well in a team implementing tasks and promote a positive spirit. They are socially orientated and comfortable in groups.
These people are your quality control for the end product. They like seeing a job completed to a high standard and they are good at giving dispassionate analysis rather than creative ideas.
Whether you are building a leadership team or inheriting one, you should aim for this balance of attributes. Bear in mind that gender does play a role here: stereotypes, such as that all women are good listeners or all men more practical, simply do not hold true.
Once in place, leaders need to appreciate that this balance of skills requires continual management, specifically in relation to the weaknesses that go hand-in-hand with the strengths of each role. The ideas person, for example, will tend to be weaker at coordinating a task. They get bored easily and lose interest quickly.
Likewise, the "doers" - those who are adept managers of a project - will usually be weak when it comes to listening to ideas. For them, interjections are hold-ups. At times, this can demotivate others, and they can come across as controlling and dominating. Good leaders should manage both this person's conduct and the perception that others have of them.
The sensitive players, meanwhile, tend to be indecisive in crises; and the quality checkers, on a crusade for perfection, can be tardy on time frames.
A leader has to ensure that people work to their strengths. If, absent- mindedly, they allocate the wrong role to a team member the consequences can be disastrous. Not only is the objective unlikely to be met, but if someone has to be taken off a job their morale will be destroyed and, as the person in charge, you will appear weak.
The same result occurs if you pick the wrong team in the first place. Ultimately, your team is an extension of yourself and if they fail, you fail. Ensuring that you have the broadest skill set possible within the broadest range of personalities should mean that failure is not something you have to contemplate.
Victor Allen is the founder of UK-based Mirror Development and Training, and a leadership and behaviour specialist
- Leaders need to pick their teams carefully, avoiding people in their own image and instead gathering a range of personality sets and skills
- A headteacher must remember that with every strength comes a related weakness which will need careful management.