Leading Teams Of Individuals

Good team leaders understand that to be successful, they not only have to lead the group as a whole, but also have to provide leadership for each and every individual within the group. A study of 60 leaders and 203 team members just published in the Journal of Applied Psychology entitled “Exploring the Dual-Level Effects of Transformational Leadership on Followers,” is unique in the fact that it examined leadership at the individual and group level simultaneously. Most empirical studies do one or the other, but rarely both at the same time.

The study found that individual-focused leader behavior was positively related to personal initiative and individual task performance, while group-focused leader behavior was positively related to group performance and helping behavior at the group level. Another unique thing about this study is the authors did a good job of explaining the managerial implications of their findings, something that is all too rare in academic studies. Here is their explanation:

… today’s leaders are expected to lead individuals and groups at the same time. Our study indicates that team leaders need to display different sets of behaviors to motivate individual followers and teams as a whole. To enhance individual performance, leaders need to set challenging goals and express confidence in their followers’ ability to attain these goals, be a coach and mentor, stimulate followers to be creative and consider new ideas and approaches, and provide timely recognition of achievements. To drive team performance, leaders need to foster group identity by emphasizing the shared values and unique characteristics of the group. Leaders should communicate a compelling vision to team members and build followers’ commitment to the vision. At the same time, leaders need to encourage cooperation and build trust among members to ensure that they work effectively as a team. (pp. 1140-1141)

When developing your future leaders, make sure they are learning how to manage both groups and the individuals in those groups. Good team performance will always require both individual and collective effort, and good team leaders need to know when and how to display the right behaviors at the right time. That will always be easier said than done, but good team leadership is usually the result of good training, not wishful thinking.


Bret L. Simmons, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Management at The University of Nevada, Reno. He earned his doctorate in Business Administration at Oklahoma State University. Bret blogs about leadership and social business at his website Positive Organizational Behavior. You can also find him on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.


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About the author

David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.

1 thought on “Leading Teams Of Individuals”

  1. What this study validates is a criticism of socialism from the standpoint of classical economic theory. Many leaders of organizations, particularly in government bureaucracies or socialist states will call on citizens, employees etc to sacrifice for the common good. We are all familiar with the sloganeering…Power to the People…Brotherhood and Unity….United We Stand etc. The problem is how do you determine if a leader is really acting in the collective interest or masking his personal or individual interest and agenda by demanding others sacrifice their individual desires? The classical economist says you cannot. Did Stalin act in the interests of the USSR? Do CEO’s who enrich themselves at the expense of stockholders or pension funds act in the organizations best interest? The problem in this regard is that it is impossible to tell, which is why socialism and collectivism is a bad thing. google the words Praxeology or Catellaxy for more ingo.

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