The word team is sometimes erroneously defined as “a group of people who follow the orders of one leader.” Leadership, in this view, depends on obedient followership from those below.  The unspoken rule here is:

Teamwork means doing what you’re told.

There are many words frequently used to describe healthy organizational cultures, but “obedient” is not one of them.  The authoritarian notion that “I manage the team and the team members do what I tell them to do,” is painfully wrong for teams of knowledge workers. It makes the manager the sole source of strategic and sometimes even tactical thinking.  It damages the culture and reduces the team’s ability to work effectively by stifling their initiative.  But we see this all the time.  Part of the reason is our first-family upbringing where parents lead, and children are expected to follow obediently.  That model may feel familiar when applied in the workplace, but it is nonetheless ill-suited.

A variant on the same theme is the unspoken rule:

There are no failures of leadership, only failures of followership.

An unspoken rule that encourages followership is likely to be the death of true leadership.  And it damages the culture.

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