Leaders: does your team benefit from synergy or suffer from antagonism?

A draft horse is a large, muscular animal that, prior to the industrial age, was used for pulling big loads. One draft horse can pull an 8,000-pound load. Two draft horses randomly linked together can pull a 24,000-pound load. If the two horses have been trained to work together they can pull 32,000 pounds 

This marvelous phenomenon is called synergy.

Synergy is the energy or force that is generated through the working together of various parts or processes such that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Antagonism is the extreme opposite of synergism. It is the reduction of energy due to the misalignment, friction, and opposition of individual elements that are connected. The whole becomes less than the sum of the parts. An example of antagonism is the effect between the opposing actions of insulin and glucagon to blood sugar level. While insulin lowers blood sugar, glucagon raises it.

Now, apply these thoughts to your organization.

How team members relate to one another: antagonism………………..……….synergy

The result:                                   dysfunctional                  functional           miraculous

All organizational teams can be placed somewhere on the spectrum between antagonism and synergy. If your team leans far-left, you’re working against each other. If you’re in the middle, team members are probably siloed: they’re not adversely affecting each other but neither are they complementary. Teams on the far-right of the spectrum are doing amazing things together.

Use this spectrum to analyze your organization at all levels. For instance, your team may be working well together—benefiting from synergy—but your team may not be aligned with other teams in the organization. 

A prerequisite for synergy (and an antidote for antagonism) is a clear vision that is shared widely and embraced deeply. A north star. A picture of the future that produces passion. A challenging but credible goal.  

Wholesome communication also helps. Robust dialogue encourages transparency and respect. Lots of face-time with other team members both in meetings around the lunch table will also help.

Basic people skills are necessary. It’s hard to work with someone who is abrasive and insensitive. Team members need to “play well in the sandbox with others” for synergy to happen.   

Your team’s synergy-quotient may be the most critical factor in your organization. Business writer Patrick Lencioni underscores this significance when he says, “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare. If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

Leaders, I double-dog-dare you to show this post to your team members and ask them to honestly evaluate where the team is on the scale.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The pain of pretending

Both my daughters studied violin in high school. They excelled, taking lessons at SMU and playing in the Dallas Youth Symphony. For one concert, they played in the Meyerson Concert Hall (one of the best musical venues in the world). Mary and I were seated in the middle of the hall, our attention focused on Lauren and Sarah. 

After the concert we went backstage to greet the girls. Sarah was crying. She held up her violin and said, “Dad, when we were tuning at the beginning of the concert, my E string broke. I didn’t know what to do; I was embarrassed and didn’t want to draw attention to myself; so the entire concert I pretended to play, but my bow never touched the strings.”

My heart was broken. I could only imagine the painful mix of emotions she endured: sadness, frustration, insecurity, embarrassment, hiding,   

I’m not sure what alternative she had—should she have walked off the stage and left an empty chair?—but I do know that for 45 minutes she experienced the pain and discomfort of pretending. 

I suppose all of us occasionally need to be temporarily inauthentic; social grace often mandates it (I dislike opera, but if I’m attending with a group of friends, I’m not going to leave at intermission). I’ve written a post titled Sometimes fake it in which I suggest that for professional reasons and for love, we often need to engage in counter-dispositional behavior.

But in general, don’t go through life denying or hiding your true self. Don’t pretend. Discover who you are, be who you are, and associate with people who accept you as you are.

Sadly, many people have never achieved a clear understanding of who their authentic self really is so pretending is their default mode. I’ve written a workbook—Signature Soulprint—that can help lead you in that discovery. 

Coach Don Meyer said, ”Be what you is. Because if you be what you ain’t, you ain’t what you is.” C.S. Lewis was more lyrical in saying, “Be weird. Be random. Be who you are. Because you never know who would love the person you hide.”

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The difference between managers and leaders

Most organizations are vastly over-managed and desperately under-led. Stephen Covey

There’s a difference between a manager and a leader. One role is not more important than the other, they’re just different. 

In his book On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis draws these distinctions:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon. 
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

[From: On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis, Basic Books, page 39-40.]

The cumulative effect of this list seems to denigrate managers and extol leaders. But in his book Learning to Lead, Bennis says:

“No organization can function successfully without both roles. The danger, however, is to confuse them, to fail to provide for both and to diminish the potential contribution of each. The difference may be summarized by viewing the activities of leaders as those of vision and judgment – in other words, effectiveness – verses the activities of managers that focus on mastering routines – in other words, efficiency.”

I prefer to use the term “leader” when referring to both roles; there are tactical leaders (managers) and strategic leaders. 

Most leadership positions require a combination of both skill sets. In my current position at the church, I “lead” about 30% of the time and “manage” 70% of the time. I am aware of when I’m switching from one role to the other and I try to balance both roles.

Mastering the skills of management is a prerequisite for leading well. Good managers lean the fundamentals of how an organization works, which becomes helpful when crafting credible vision. The opposite approach—becoming a leader with no management skills or experience—usually produces a detached, oblivious leader. 

To personalize this essay, respond to these issues.

  • Do you agree that there’s a difference between a manager and a leader?
  • Is it advantageous to be skilled at both?
  • Are  you a better manager or a better leader? 
  • Does your current position require you to manage or a lead? 
  • Identify a position in your organization that primarily requires management skills.
  • Identify a position in your organization that primarily requires leadership skills.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.