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The Balanced Teammate: Leading & Following with Grace

by | Mar 18, 2024 | General Career Advice

In our modern work environment, the dynamics of teamwork have evolved, demanding more from each individual. To thrive in this setting, professionals need to understand what it means to be a balanced teammate.

This is my own terminology for a critically important, though rarely talked about skillset.

The idea is simple: Being a balanced teammate means you know when (and how) to step up and lead AND when (and how) to step back and follow. Finding this balance is a key ingredient that shapes the success of teams and projects.

The Pitfalls of Imbalance

When team members fail to strike this balance, there can be serious repercussions. An imbalance can create a leadership vacuum or an overabundance.

When there’s a leadership void, projects languish due to indecision or lack of direction. When there are too many leaders vying for control, conflicts arise as egos and ideas clash.

Both scenarios result in decreased productivity and diminished morale and can ultimately create a toxic work environment. Team creativity and innovation suffer as members become more reluctant to share ideas, fearing they will be overshadowed or ignored.

The Power of Balance

On the other hand, a team that masters the art of balance reaps the rewards.

First and foremost, balanced teammates create a fluid and adaptable team dynamic where members can naturally step into leadership roles as needed, based on their expertise and the task at hand. The others, in turn, can fall comfortably into step as “followers” – without any sense of inferiority. They know they will have their turn to lead when the time is right. This flexibility creates a more efficient and effective team, as the best-suited individuals lead various initiatives, and the rest of the team executes in support of their leadership.

Secondly, this dynamic creates a culture of mutual respect and trust. When team members feel valued both as leaders and as followers, it strengthens team cohesion and builds a supportive work environment where everyone is on equal footing, regardless of the role they are presently playing. This is particularly crucial in high-pressure situations where trust in each other’s abilities and intentions can make or break a project.

Lastly, balanced teams are hotbeds for innovation. In a culture that values diverse viewpoints and encourages members to both lead and follow, ideas can be freely shared, debated, and improved upon. This kind of creative thinking isn’t limited to a select few; it’s woven into the fabric of the team itself. This not only results in better solutions but also ensures that all team members feel ownership and investment in the team’s successes.

Cultivating Balance

So, how do you create this kind of balance within your team? It starts with self-awareness and communication, everyone to recognize their strengths and when they can best contribute by leading or supporting. Share feedback freely within the group and openly discuss team dynamics and areas for improvement.

Leaders (whether formal or informal) can set the tone by exemplifying balanced behavior, showing the confidence to assert leadership, and the humility to step back to let others lead. Doing so provides opportunities for others to grow their skills and confidence.

Being a balanced teammate is about more than just playing your role; it’s about dynamically adapting to the needs of your team and project. By fostering an environment where everyone can lead and follow, teams can unlock their full potential.

If you’re interested in honing your leadership skills as an “unofficial” leader, consider joining the upcoming Leadership Learning Lab!

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About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and certified Professional Career Manager (PCM). She is an author, in-demand presenter and international speaker known for engaging, entertaining, educating and empowering audiences of all sizes and backgrounds. Learn more here.

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