Inspiration / It's my life!

Teamwork – Authoritative or democratic? Or, neither?

“There is really no greater or more persistent folly…than to be excited and annoyed by the fatuities of the world.”
Michel de Montaigne

That was today’s quote from the Happiness Project. I thought it was very relevant and says a lot about my situation these days. I am overwhelmed by work (I’m booked every day for the next three weeks). I have just received a disappointing comment from my group-mate, which made me doubt myself. And, I have yet to confirm my summer internship. I was frustrated.


Teamwork. Image by blentley via Flickr

Then, the quote made me looked hard at my busy calendar, looked at the bizarreness of it, and I laughed. Why bother, really? Why do I always fall into that trap of making my life more exciting (and stressful) by the ups and downs of it? Come to think of it, this entire episode doesn’t really matter. Sigh, having a controlled grip of my emotions when it is necessary is still something I’m a novice at. (I vented my frustrations with this aspect of my life in a previous post).

Anyway, after dinner, I sat quietly in front of a bunch of flowerless shrubs, heaved a deep breath and reflected calmly. A thought came to my mind.

“Hey, what if in all these problems I have with my teams, no one is actually in the wrong? What if good interpersonal relationships is just a matter of flexibility? Maybe, there is no hard template to be a good leader. It all depends on your groupmates.”

Throughout these four months, I kept pondering on how to be a good leader. I borrowed books on leadership by Warren Bennis and Philip Hesketh, books on the power of NLP and to be a results-driven leader.  I even bought a book by Jack Welsh, which I have yet had the time to read. Should I be authoritative? Should I be more of a team-player? Should I be specific about deadlines? Should I be more managerial, or should I be more coach-like? Should I do more work, or should I inspire them to do work?

My reflection brought to light that somehow or rather, I subconsciously experimented with my four project groups this semester.

In one, I had already delegated the role to another. Thus, with other proactive members in this group, I am able to play a somewhat lackadaisical teammate in this group. I do my share of work, but nothing more.

In the other three, I took a more active role as their leaders. But, the question is what kind of leader I chose to be in those groups.

In one group, I discovered that I had taken the role of an authoritarian, though not on purpose. I was the one who created the group and gathered its members consisting of four different nationalities. I was also the one who connected everyone else together, came up with the basic idea, made sure everyone did their roles and sent them to me by a particular deadline. I, then, compiled the work and edited it till what I deemed as the best. Just a few hours ago, though, I received a note from a teammate on his unfavourable opinion of my editing of his work, which he deemed as unappreciative and disrespectful. He voiced it out through email, and not during the meeting we had earlier this afternoon (I think this is a cultural differences matter, but I’ll leave it at that for now). It wasn’t meant to insult me, but it still shocked me because it was very unexpected. After editing and compiling the work, I had asked for their opinions as well, but I guess this part was forgotten and overshadowed by my seemingly authoritarian Asian manners? Hmm… Situation #1.

Well, in another group, I played the role of a more lenient, and team-player leader. Once again, I gathered the group members because I wanted to have a multicultural (5 different nationalities) and multidisciplinary (3 engineering disciplines) group. This group had more outspoken members, and so, I became a democratic leader who would play a more managerial and administrative role. I expected them to take the initiative to propose ideas, and to take up responsibilities. Once again, it failed. Why? Because, too many cooks spoiled the broth. Too many outspoken leaders meant many ideas but also many critics and thus, we either had too many ideas or nothing at all. Situation #2.

In my fourth group, I actually wanted to play a lesser role. In this module, I thought of myself as the junior in this class. Except for a few others, the rest were graduate students. To me, it didn’t matter which group-mates I had. So, once the lecturer assigned me to my group-mates, I waited for my more senior team-mates to step up and propose ideas for our paper. But, after weeks of waiting, I realized with horror, that was just not going to happen. I was too subservient for too long. I quickly stepped up, outlined the stuff we had yet to do, and being the only one with the strongest command in English, I have to take the extra role of tying the loose ends in this project. This is Situation #3.

Heaving a deep sigh while writing this down, I could see that my blunder in those situations was, I had assumed based on my previous (more successful) experiences in teamwork that it didn’t matter what role I played or how I led the group because it would still turn out well. But, this assumption was very presumptive of me. I now know differently. Yes, it is right that it doesn’t matter whether I began being more authoritative, or a team-player, or more laid back. But, this is because in leadership and teamwork, what matters most is flexibility. I should have quickly got to know my teammates, and quickly changed the working style if it is not working (e.g. In Situation #2, I should have been more authoritative). Now, in our last lap towards the deadlines, I know it’s late. Thankfully, not too late.

So, in my opinion is that despite all the leadership theories proposed in management books and biographies, choosing the right leadership style still balls down on whom you are leading and if it doesn’t work, change it FAST. Do you agree with me?


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