The 9 Leadership Characters

The 9 Leadership Characters

Your leadership characteristics are the sum of your personality, habits, behaviours and attitude.

Here we identify the most important leadership characteristics and how you can develop your leadership character. When we started using the game of golf as our classroom to develop leadership we noticed a similarity between the way people play golf, and their leadership characteristics.

Originally, we created nicknames for our participants as an easy means of communication between us trainers. The nicknames not only stuck, it spurred me to delve in and research. What I found was that there were 9 major leadership styles that corresponded with their golfing character. For example, the golf “Conqueror” – the guy (and it was usually a guy) who smacks the ball as a far as possible and uses the biggest baddest club in the bag… well, he was just like that as a leader.

We identified nine different character types and with a little imagination created the “9 Character’s of Leadership.

Nine Leadership Characters

There are nine main ‘styles’ of leadership – the 9 Characters. By ‘style’, I do not mean to refer to an individual’s personality or their innate character as though this were true. I am, instead, referring to the way in which you perform at your best and most naturally – which may represent your true personality – best to ask your spouse or a close friend who knows you in many other situations as well. This is your character paradigm.

We’ll consider each of the characters or styles in turn, pointing out the dominant leadership characteristics displayed and consider a few well known business leaders who fit each style. Your job is to identify your own style amongst these nine – finding the one which most accurately matches your approach to leadership.

Nine Characters of Leadership
To find out your Leadership Character, take the GAPPS4 Leadership Assessment now.
This isn’t about choosing the style you think that you ‘should’ have, or would like to have. This is about understanding where you are now, and knowing that if you lead in this style, it will be the most comfortable. Later you can consider how to compensate for the weaknesses in your leadership.

Your leadership character is the combination of your technical competency (how well you do the leadership Skills) and your leadership advantage (have developed the Leadership Qualities). Many golfers take up the game, in part, because it is known as the sport of business people – it is an especially good means of networking and developing relationships, so is there a commonality between the way people play the game and the way they behave at work – our research and observation shows that there is:

The Conqueror Leader

The conquerer revels in adversity and challenge.The conquerer leader is technically excellent and seldom backs out of a confrontation if offered.This leader dominates. Power is their weapon of choice. Achieving results others think impossible brings great joy. This leader works to shorten every task – going for broke every time. Often an exhibitionist and like to brag about their prowess.

Challenging projects whet the appetite – bringing pulses of energy and making the endorphins flow.

As a leader, this character revels in adversity and challengeis technically excellent and seldom backs out of a confrontation if offered. The more impossible others consider the position, the more they defy the odds. They want results, and they want them now! Excuses will bring wrath, and success will bring a new challenge. Seldom satisfied with the result, it can always be better.

As a leader, the ‘Conqueror’ revels in adversity and challenge. The more impossible others consider the position, the more the conqueror defies the odds. They want results, and they want them now. Excuses will bring wrath, and success will bring a new challenge. Seldom satisfied with the result, it can always be better.

Famous leaders here include: Margaret Thatcher, Carly Fiorina, Lee Ka Shing, John Chambers, Michael Dell, David Johnson.

Many Controller Leaders aspire to this style. Tending to remain in a particular job or industry, they are often specialists in their field.

These leaders like to crush the competition, whether it’s external or internal… all are fair game.

How does this leader develop?

There’s little further technical skill this individual needs, so long as they remain in their chosen specialist field or industry.

What they often lack in interpersonal skills , they make up for inachievement orientation.

These leaders do, however, change jobs and industries. Their record of achievement, the results they get make them highly prized.

The Controller Leader

Controller Leaders are technically competent, they have the aptitude to do leadership. On the downside, Controller Leaders often care little about another person’s values. With some technical development in the DOING of leadership, you become a more competent leader without the good people skills.

The most noticeable characteristic of this leader is that they shout. If someone does not understand what they need to do, this leader will usually raise their voice, repeating exactly the same words… just more loudly.

Easily frustrated by other people, they rarely care much for what’s important for the other person – their values (even their own!) They show little empathy for poor performers. Yet these leaders often form the backbone of the company.

This leader is actually more manager than ‘leader’. Often process oriented, this person finds the rule book and sometimes throws it. These leaders can be very very effective. The armed forces are filled with Controller Leaders. They can shout louder to get things done. And , when struggling to communicate, the most effective action is to raise the voice. Forceful gesticulations and arm movements enable the coarse leader to vent some frustrations.

The ‘Controller Leader’ is good at what they do, in their area of expertise. They like to control information, power or skills. Often insecure, they can be aggressive and quick to blame their own mistakes on others.

These technically almost competent leaders abound. You’ve met at least one in the past month. The more extreme politicians tend have this characteristic. Trading floors overflow with them. In business, pre-dominantly male, high testosterone, almost brilliant.

Achievement or results oriented, though not so high as conquerors.

Developing Controller Leaders

If you are a this type of leader it is likely that you regularly feel frustrated and, well, you may not have known this before, but believe me, everyone else thinks you are a little “rough around the edges”.

No, I agree it’s not a nice label. But then, can I be honest with you here. The fear you instil in others isn’t too kind either.

You have come a long way. You probably get great results. And you may even be extremely well paid. So what’s wrong with staying here?

Nothing at all, if you enjoy this. Not for you anyway. Others might take issue with me here and suggest that you should be the first in line for re-training. But this is not so. All businesses find that they need a few of these competent yet seemingly uncaring leaders. These are often the people who get things done. Only the conqueror is more highly prized in such situations.

The Compliant Leader

The Compliant Leader is where we all start! Or at least should start!. Primarily this is a follower role, rather than leader. Everyone is a Compliant Leader at first and there is no shame in being here. In fact some leaders stay here their entire lives and still manage to succeed. We all start at the bottom left corner! Low technical leadership aptitude, and low leadership advantage.

The ‘Compliant Leader’ is usually focussed on a niche or specific technical area with little need to lead or manage others. Such focus on ‘doing a job’ is vital in teams. Complaint leaders are often the people who ‘get the job done’

I hear often about “natural born leaders” – usually from the same people who believe that leadership cannot be developed (and when I dig deeper, I find that these same people are not ‘natural born leaders’ and cannot be bothered to put in the effort to actually develop their leadership thus, leadership is ‘natural’ becomes the excuse.)

Let me put my stake in the ground here.

No-one is a born leader!

You are born as a baby. You are not born as the CEO of megacorp inc!

Do some individuals seem to show their leadership character and competencies more easily than others? Sure they do. Just as some people have better hand-eye coordination and find sports easier to excel at. Some are great musicians. Now if you can find one person who is a ‘born leader’ who had never ever developed themselves, practiced and is a truly good leader I will eat 3 golf balls for my lunch.

Now, got that off my chest. We all start as “Compliant” leaders. A few leaders remain so. They possess little of the technical aptitude of doing leadership, and little of the mindset or attributes of being a leader. If you are young, this is perfectly acceptable. If you are new to a formal leadership role, this is acceptable. But, if you are the leader of a country, it is not really acceptable.

Fame as a Compliant leader is not on the cards. Millions of people fall into this leadership character because they get on and do their own job, and simply do not lead others. Every team needs people like this and these individuals form the backbone of every economy.

However, if you are here and want to lead others, you have a choice:

  1. Give up
  2. Learn how to do leadership

And the most common form of leadership development, is learning how to DO it.

So, the Complaint Leader buys a few leadership books… 7 Habits, Dummies Guide to leadership. The favourite during the 90’s of course was to go get an MBA.

Developing the Complaint Leader

Most beginner leaders are this way because they have never been given training in leadership, have no mentors, or are simply young and thus still a beginner at this leadership stuff.

That being said, many schools and even kindergartens are realizing the importance of developing leadership skills and character at a very young age.

Most often, the chosen development route is to first learn how to do leadership. That is, learn the technical skills or competence of leaders. And the primary skill that a leader has is Engaging Communications.

The optimal route however, is to first develop your leadership character and that always starts developing the Habits and Attitudes of Leadership. Start with Dr. Tim Elmore’s “Habitudes”.

Connector Leaders

Connector Leaders are unable to DO leadership and management technically as well as others. Connector leaders are those highly adept in the softer skills of influencing fellow humans and either resort to manipulative methods to maintain their leadership or give of themselves to others continuously. Many clients of mine get concerned about this. To manipulate someone is usually considered a negative characteristic, and for many who feel that they have been manipulated by someone associate the term negatively. So let me clarify by turning to our trusty again…

ma·nip·u·late [muh-nip-yuh-leyt]–verb (used with object), -lat·ed, -lat·ing.

  1. to manage or influence skillfully, esp. in an unfair manner: to manipulate people’s feelings.
  2. to handle, manage, or use, esp. with skill, in some process of treatment or performance: to manipulate a large tractor.
  3. to adapt or change (accounts, figures, etc.) to suit one’s purpose or advantage.

Manipulation is a prized skill. Sure some individuals use their highly developed influencing skills for personal gain over others. And let me be honest here, the vast majority of Connector Leaders that we have met and worked with do, at least when we first meet them, belong to this darker side of the skill use.

The other side of Connector Leaders are those who are ‘Go-Givers’. Such individuals are the kings and queens of the networking circuit. Always looking for a way to refer someone else and connect them with appropriate opportunities. The caveat for some leaders here is that their generosity is not always reciprocated and if the desire to help others is less than completely genuine, they can end up very bitter and resentful.

As a business leader, the ‘Connector’ seeks to expand their circle of influence, some for leverage, others as ‘go-givers’. Underlying motive is key to understanding Connectors. The ‘Connector Leader’ may use the skills of others, claiming recognition for others efforts and yet makes them feel good about it. Other Connectors add value to others, often at the expense of themselves.

Manipulative Connector leaders abound throughout the world. These are often the leaders who ‘play politics’ very well. They know who is key to their future and will easily use their skills to ‘shmooze’ and persuade. If left on their own, they would flounder, yet they seem to do more than survive, even thrive in many organizations. If the Conqueror is the home of the despots then this is the home of nepotism.

Leaders I include here: Several politicians fit this category and a large proportion of people in high level leadership positions that you know. Often the ‘Chairman’s son/nephew or son-in-law.’

Erm… my assessment puts me here and I don’t like it!

Hold on a moment!

Being a fox is not all bad. There are some great and important leadership skills. Skills that others often lack and thus you have the upper hand. Influencing skills in particular are usually strongest.

With this alone, such leaders have a fabulous opportunity. All you really need to consider is your own Values!

The Conjuror Leader

The Conjuror Leader triumphs over adversity again and again. The conjuror seems intent on making their own lives difficult and forever deliberately putting themselves and their teams into new challenges. These leaders find excitement in difficult problems, thoroughly enjoy being tested in the “school of hard knocks”, or an impossible negotiation with the union rep. They excel in the bunkers of the business world, and become easily bored with routine projects. They gather their wits before a troublesome task and have marvellous imagination which they are very capable of transferring directly into their work. About half of the these characters like to show-off, whilst the other, quieter half, like to gain great results.

Conjuror Leaders are the true 360 Leaders. They face daily the tensions of balancing the demands of bosses, staff, clients and suppliers. This is truly leading from the middle of the pack. It’s a tough place to be.

The mantra of the successful Conjuror Leader is to “keep on keeping on”. Lead upwards, across and down. Prioritize sufficiently well and above all, manage self effectively.

Leaders here include: Herb Kelleher, Hank Greenberg, Michael Eisner

Like their namesake, these leaders juggle many things at a time. Kings and Queens of multi-tasking, if they learn how to empower their team and enable them through developing the right skills for them then all that sometimes remains, is to become more long term goal focused and have a more strategic perspective.

Developing the Conjuror Leader

The first and foremost thing for the leader in the middle is a reminder that Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.

The challenges Conjuror Leaders face on a daily basis and most often, the lack of power and authority means that they have to influence upwards, across and down the organization. Raising your level of Influence with others by adding value to them and honing the skills of persuasiveness are the key to success.

The Crafstman leader

The Craftsman leader is the clear headed technical leader. Deeply aware of their own qualities, characteristics and skills. They excel in their area. These leaders, rehearse and practice even during a project – working on particular aspects of their management and leadership that needs attention.

This leader excels when tinkering with the minutia details of how to run a particular project. These leaders prefer a low stress day, first time solutions, and polish for the final quality will suit them just fine. Quiet and concentrate more on achieving great results than prideful trumpeting of achievements, these are solid leaders and maintain a consistent high performance.

The Craftsman leader likes a smooth-running business where they can constantly and continuously improve aspects of their business in incremental steps. They invite you to examine their work, highlighting the intricate detail and fine product.

The ‘Craftsman Leader’ likes a smooth-running business where they can constantly and continuously improve aspects of their business in incremental steps. They approach their area of expertise with panache and very high quality. ‘Craftsman’ can be viewed as frustrating to others (especially Conquerors) when they want perfection rather than ‘good enough’

Gordone Bethune, Andy Grove, Sandy Weill are some examples I believe are here.

Developing craftsmen

Organiazations and CEO’s often shy away from developing the craftsmen in their team. They know that they need the quality and steady high performance they bring. In fact, some are held back from progressing only because there’s just one step to go to being a chess-player leader and may even be perceived as a threat to those above and on the Boardroom.

Most of these leaders are an inspiration to their teams – enjoying and praising high quality work and performance, they encourage those without to develop the technical skills and their “soft skills”.

Often, these leaders act as mentors to others – with great experience and with the balance of the high achievement focus of the conqueror, and the strategic politicking of the chess player.

So what does the Craftsman leader need to develop?

Well, the chances are that if you are here, you already know. But just in case…

It is possible that this leader needs a more strategic perspective. More often it is the skills of influencing and motivating.


Yes, it’s true.

Frequently the Craftsman leader has very high Motivation level and Influence Level. That is, they are personally highly motivated and this exudes to those around, who pick up on their motivation. They are inspiring!

They also very frequently have a high level of influence with others. They most often have developed others who then follow because they have been personally developed by this leader… which in turn earns respect and loyalty.

The down side, for some of these leaders, is that because of these high levels of qualities, they do not deliberately practice the skills of motivating and influencing.

When some people simply “don’t get it”, the few that are uninspired or just not interested in learning from this person… they lack the mind ‘politick’ to bother.

This is often a great shame for the organization who would truly benefit if they stepped up that next level.

Those that reach the position… well just look at their organizations. Talk to their people. You’ll want to work there too.

The Cavalier Leader

The Cavalier leader is the ‘show-off’ of the leadership world. The Cavalier leader may not be so egotistically, but because it motivates them. The consummate performer – the true exhibitionist in the office, these leaders like to shape their activities as much as possible and work everything towards the target. How the result, and they, look is important. This is the leader who says “watch this” as they carve a deal in seconds that took others years to fail. Others do this occasionally, with luck, but these leaders thrive on it. They like to wow the crowd and colleagues and are the fame-makers of the business world.

Often referred to as Mavericks, they will stun the audience with acts of derring-do and controversial behaviours. These leaders enjoy the limelight and are more frequently in the press.

Cavalier leaders include: Richard Branson, Ken Lay, Bill Gates, Martha Stewart.

The Cavalier leader is the ‘show-off’ of the leadership world – not necessarily egotistically, but because it motivates them. Often, they will stun the audience with acts of derring-do and controversial behaviours. These leaders enjoy the limelight and are more frequently in the press. They are the Mavericks in business.

Most often, these leaders evolve due to difficulties in learning the technical competences necessary to develop from clumsy to coarse leadership. The prankster at school who entertained rather than produce results.

Charismatic leadership in action? I am regularly asked how to develop “charismatic Leadership”, and frequently this leader is labelled as “Charismatic”. They exude charm, a ‘presence’. But just what is this “charisma”?

Let us turn to the trusty for answers:

cha·ris·ma [kuh-riz-muh]

  1. Theology . a divinely conferred gift or power.
  2. a spiritual power or personal quality that gives an individual influence or authority over large numbers of people.3.the special virtue of an office, function, position, etc., that confers or is thought to confer on the person holding it an unusual ability for leadership, worthiness of veneration, or the like.

What do I do to get this “charisma”? Well, sorry folks, but it isn’t something you do, it is a gift… free, gratis, given. i.e. not in exchange for something else.

So how do I get given it? The clue is in the definition… divinely, spiritual… I suggest that you ask for it.

I don’t believe in all that stuff, so how can I get it?

Conductor Leaders

The conductor is often the unsung hero of the office and social life. Conductors organise, cajole and hustle and, as their namesake, bring harmony into the team through structured, cooperation and collaboration. More concerned for everyone’s enjoyment than just their own, they thrive on working with others. Taking part is more important than winning; they can glory in other’s success. Many of the world’s top leaders fit this style. Disciplined and organised, these leaders like to keep accurate performance records and seldom show-off.

Most leaders would like to be considered as conductors, concentrating their efforts on bringing the symphony together in perfect harmony towards a particular goal. These leaders empower others and seldom take centre-stage in public view (like an orchestral conductor, they have their back to the audience and their guidance focused on their team.)

Leaders: Charles Heimbold, Carol Bartz, Elizabeth Dole, Ralph Larsen, Bill Marriot

Most leaders would like to be considered as conductors, concentrating their efforts on bringing the symphony together in perfect harmony towards a particular goal. These leaders empower others and seldom take centre-stage in public view (like an orchestral conductor, they have their back to the audience and their guidance focused on their team.)

Often, these leaders draw on others competence because they don’t have it themselves! Is that such a bad thing? My mother used to tell me that “it takes a real man to know when to ask for help”.

Actually, one of the best snippets of advice she could ever have given me. Whenever I struggled with doing something, I would feel some pride in asking for the help of those more capable than I.

It helped me to firstly become a good team player and later, a decent leader.

In my early career, I trained as a Chef (yes and I still cook and yes I am pretty good, and yes, you bring the wine and I’ll cook for you). Where was I? Oh yes, the kitchens. Perhaps I should mention that I am not good at pastry. My croissants are solid masses of dough and butter that can (and have) cracked floor tiles!

Does that mean I cannot run a kitchen? No, it means that if I want to serve guests with delectable deserts and breads, that I need to work with someone who’s hands are cooler and has the knack of getting the ingredients properly balanced.

Later I trained in Hotel Management. Some departments suited my skills better than others. Accounting is a no-no for me. I can do it, I just get incredibly bored and thus rush and thus make mistakes. However, give me the chance to chat with someone… I’m your man!

As a leader, I learned how to draw from the strengths of others. Knowing who had the technical competence to do particular tasks and who had the right behavioural competencies to best serve customers.

However, keeping everyone in play effectively and without workaholic effort does mean that, as in an orchestra, we need good, solid section leaders. Otherwise this character can quickly slip back to being a conjuror.

The Chess Player Leader

The Chess Player is the strategist of the leadership world. The Chess Player leader plots their way through a plan from point a to point b to point c. Positional planning is their forte and they are content to deliver steadily and continuously all day, with an occasional massive triumph. They know that consistent, planned performance will win most of the time against all other styles. This highly strategic leader gets the most from their leadership when they are thinking clearly, and using their minds throughout the day.

Nothing flashy about their behaviour for the most part, these leaders are good in all aspects of the business and tend to manage everything efficiently and well.

These are the scorers in the game of business – they may appear to showing-off but that is due to their considerable skill and focus.

All leaders would like to consider themselves to be such leaders, understanding the ‘art of war’ and the plethora of books on strategic management. But that’s just it, the vast majority of strategists are managers, not leaders (except by title).

These leaders understand the environment, the context, the shifting positions of the competition and play a solid game along known successful routes, not too greedy and with contingencies for rough times. They understand foremost, who they are and what drives them, secondly they know their people and leverage their strengths and deploy all their resources to best effect.

This leadership characteristic is most ideally exemplified by Jack Welch, Walter Shipley, Howard Schultz, Tony Blair.


Teamwork Matters

Teamwork Matters

Organizations accomplish what they do because of teamwork. Whether you are in business, sport, education, the church and even marriage – teamwork is what paves the way to success. What a leader can do with a great team far surpasses anything they can accomplish alone. As a leader learns how to unite the right people around a shared vision, their influence truly begins to take off.

According to Dr. John C. Maxwell in his book, The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, the 1st Law of Teamwork is The Law of Significance:

One is too small a number to achieve greatness. Leaders who fail to promote teamwork undermine their own potential and erode the best efforts of the people with whom they work. To accomplish anything significant, leaders must learn to link up with others.

Recently I began working with a very successful businessman. In our first session he proudly informed me that he was a “self-made man”. He was rather taken aback when I appeared unimpressed. After all, this man is successful and rich. I responded, “That’s too bad. Imagine just how much you could have achieved with a great team.”

The reality of course, is that no-one is truly self-made. We may not have been gifted our businesses by our parents but they have played a part in making you. Your education may have been cut short or even, not especially good, but your teachers did impart something. For a few of my clients what they perceive as being negative in their lives is actually the turning point for their success.

A leader’s job is to develop the team so that the team is effective.

But what is an effective team?

There are probably as many definitions of an effective team as there are teams. But there does seem to be commonality and this, I believe, distils to:

An effective team has unity of cohesion and effort towards a common goal.

The Five components of an effective team

five components of effective teamsThese five components stem from research undertaken largely by the US Military (in particular, post-Gulf War I, when the number of “friendly fire” incidents became unacceptable).

Only when all five components are present in a team is there the potential for true unity of cohesion and effort. (Figure 1)

Shared Values

Shared values define the team. Without common values, everyone on the team has a different opinion about what’s important. Values put people on the same page. Just as personal values influence and guide an individual’s behaviour, organizational values set the standard for a team’s performance.

Too often, the values of a team are prepared by a marketing consultant, discussed and pasted on walls. Yet these are not the underlying true values of the individual’s within the team. Rarely does one see a team’s values statement include payment for their contribution, nor do we often see values pertaining to providing a safe and secure home for our families.

When we ask our clients why they work, the number 1 response is unsurprisingly, money. Joint second is providing for a family home and education for children, third is God.

I liken shared values to the image of an iceberg. The 10% above the water is what we see of the values that a person or the team holds – it represents the behaviours that are manifest.

The 90% below the water is the character of the individual or team – which is defined by the values that the team members hold.

It’s the 90% below the surface that sinks the ship.

The leader who neglects the real shared values of the team may find that the team:

  • Stagnates or fails to grow
  • Avoids obstacles
  • Loses achievement-oriented employees
  • Encourages team members to focus on their own careers and individual goals
  • Is easily distracted


Clear Command Instruction

Clear command instruction gives team members direction and confidence. If you lead your team, then you are responsible for identifying a worthy and compelling vision and articulating it to the team. People continually need to be shown the team’s compass clearly and creatively so that their actions align and they stay motivated by a captivating picture of the future.

Each team member should be able to make decisions readily and rapidly based on the clarity of the command instruction.

Clarity is critical. Often we see the use of delightful, yet nebulous words used to describe the goal and provide the direction. The word excellence (or excellent) is one example. Like values statements, the intentions are good, but what does excellence mean? We each have our own definition, all perfectly valid, of what excellence means.

In “Made to Stick”, the Heath Brothers refer to this as ‘Commanders Intent’ and recommend that leaders strip down the goal to the core message. The Combat Maneuver Training Centre, the unit in charge of military simulations in the US recommends that officers arrive at the Commander’s Intent by asking themselves two questions:

  1. If we do nothing else during tomorrow’s mission we must __________________.
  2. The single most important thing that we do tomorrow is __________________.

In this way, any team member who faces a decision can make that decision in line with the command instruction.

Establishing this takes time. Sometimes it is easy – when there are specific standards laid down by an industry body such as a Ministry of Health, the Inland Revenue or a professional body – then the goal of achieving those standards makes command instruction comparatively straightforward:

Achieve these standards.

But what happens once those standards are achieved? The leader then needs to create the new standards and articulate these to the team. And like any goal you want to achieve it has to be SMART, sensory and compelling, and of course, it must satisfy the values.

Leaders who are unable to articulate clarity of command instruction often find that the team fails to commit and:

  • This creates ambiguity among the team about direction and priorities
  • Team member’s watch windows of opportunity close due to excessive analysis and unnecessary delay
  • It also breeds lack of confidence and fear of failure
  • Team’s revisit discussions and decisions again and again
  • And also encourages second-guessing among team members


Shared Experience

Having clarity of direction that will satisfy shared values is only the beginning of effectiveness for the team. Shared experienced is the ‘how the team will do this’. What skills and knowledge are needed to achieve this?

Teams are of course, filled with individuals. And each individual brings with them their own set of skills, knowledge and abilities. And all players in a team have a place where they add the most value. Winning teams require more than the right people. You may have a group of talented individuals, but if each person is out of position, then the team won’t reach its potential.

Leading a successful team involves putting people in spots where they can excel.

The leader can think of team members as resources and fill the spots like playing checkers, or the leader can recognize the particular strengths and abilities of each individual. Using their strengths work together as a team – like a chess player.

When the leader fails to use the right strengths and abilities…

  • This creates resentment among team members who have different standards of performance
  • Encourages mediocrity
  • The team misses deadlines and key deliverables
  • And places an undue burden on the team leader as the sole source of discipline


Shared Situational Awareness

The most neglected component of developing effective teams is shared situational awareness.

Shared Situational Awareness is when all team members’ continuous perceptions of themselves and their peers in relation to the dynamic environment of business, competition, goals and the ability to predict, and then execute based on shared perception.

This is often neglected because it is so difficult to pin down. And the moment that you do pin down that you are fully aware of the current situation, the situation has already changed. Further, in circumstances where an individual’s situational awareness is well developed, much of the processing is unconscious.

Take, for example, driving a vehicle:

When you first learned to drive you were acutely aware of the very many things that required your attention. All of which had an impact or potential impact on your response. You have to steer, change gear, accelerate, break, and watch what is behind you, beside you, in front of you. You have to predict the behaviour of every other road user and make decisions based on a common set of rules. All on the basis of trust. Trust that the other road users will obey the rules, trust that the brake pedal will work, and trust in your own judgment call about what each other road user will or will not do.

Now imagine attempting to instruct another person remotely how to do that, in real time.

You would need to know that person’s knowledge and experience, where they were, what vehicle they were driving and all the other information. Impossible.

To enable this to work, the leader and each team member needs to be sure that every team member will perform their role effectively and how each will respond to given, known (and unknown) situations (following the command instruction based on known shared values using their known abilities and experience). It also means that team members look out for each other in the interests of the team.

When shared situational awareness is poor, teams:

  • Conceal their weaknesses and mistakes from one another
  • Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback
  • Hesitate to offer help outside their own areas of responsibility
  • Jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitudes of others without attempting to clarify them
  • Fail to recognize and tap into one another’s skills and experiences
  • Waste time and energy managing their behaviours for effect
  • Hold grudges
  • Dread meetings and find reasons to avoid spending time together



The fifth component of an effective team is in their communications. Communication brings to light disagreements so that teammates can hammer out their differences and move forward in unison. Communication also spreads information, which eliminates redundancies and prevents teammates from working at cross‐purposes.

Communication within the team must continuously reinforce and support each of the other four components. Openly and candidly.

And critically, communication is the response you get. If a team member does not understand what their teammate is saying, the teammate is responsible for getting their message across.

The culture within the team is created, reinforced or undermined by the communication within the team. Consider communication as a family virus. The virus spreads rapidly and easily because the family stays close together and has members who are similar. The more virulent the virus, the quicker it spreads… and for communication, nothing spreads faster than gossip, cynicism and untruths. A wise leader ensures that they inoculate every team member with their chosen contagion that supports the desired team culture and prevents the spread of any malicious or damaging chatter.

Teams that have poor communication:

  • Have boring meetings
  • Create environments where back-channel politics and personal attacks thrive
  • Ignore controversial topics that are critical to team success
  • Fail to tap into all the opinions and perspectives of team members
  • Waste time and energy with posturing and interpersonal risk management


Team dysfunctions and issues

In our work with hundreds of work teams, we have found that the lack of Shared Situational Awareness is always the number one cause of

Number of teams showing symptoms of dysfunction

issues in teams. Even in teams that are high performing. It is most often manifest in the apparent lack of trust in the team. Lack of trust is the fruit of behaviours that good SSA would overcome.

The second dysfunction of teams is communication – often brought about because of a lack of shared situational awareness or, as most people think of it, trust.

Clarity of command instruction is most often the third issue teams face, though in competitive business organizations the third issue is frequently shared values.


Diagnosing the Issues in the team

In our work and research with organization teams across industries and across the globe we have identified the symptoms of team dysfunction and how frequently each occur within a team. By surveying team members we have been able to identify the frequency of dysfunction symptoms and thereby identify the key component issue.

Identifying the symptoms of dysfunction

Figure 2: Data from 582 teams, showing number of symptoms in each team for each component


What does the leader need to do?

Law 4 in John Maxwell’s 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork is the Law of Mount Everest

As the challenge escalates, the need for teamwork elevates. As the journey grows in difficulty, you can no longer cruise along with ordinary talent and average cooperation. To climb past the obstacles to your dream, you need to have a team of peak performers working in unison and clicking on all cylinders.

Synptoms of dystfunction in teams and what this meansIf your team is facing challenges or you want it to perform better, then the first task is to recognize that it is your responsibility as the leader. It is not the team members’ responsibility nor is it an external consultant’s responsibility to “fix” the team. It starts with you.

In each area, there are common key symptoms. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, just an overview of the top and most frequently uncovered issues in our work with teams:

Observe the symptoms of dysfunction that may be present and raise each issue with the whole team. Now is the time you can ask the team to help you fix the issues.

Knowing your goals, having the right experience and resources and working together towards satisfying shared values are well known to be important in effective team performance. Shared Situational Awareness and clear communication though is the glue for teams: How you understand my context and situation and we adapt to each new situation as it arises – collaborating to gain those synergies everyone promises. And the key to SSA is open and candid communication. It’s the leader’s job to inoculate all team members with the positive communication virus.

About the author Dr John Kenworthy

Leadership is the difference maker and the deal breaker. It’s how we grow organizations. It’s how we impact lives. But, as you also know, leadership cannot be an idea we simply talk about. Leadership is the action we must live out.

As a Certified Leadership Coach, Trainer and Speaker, I can offer you workshops, seminars, keynote speaking, and coaching, aiding your personal and professional growth through study and practical application of John’s proven leadership methods. Working together, I will move you and/or your team or organization in the desired direction to reach your goals.