Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams | Roger Schwarz

Summary of: Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams: How You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Results
By: Roger Schwarz


In the book ‘Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams’ by Roger Schwarz, readers delve into a transformative approach of challenging traditional leadership assumptions to foster a more effective and adaptable environment within the workplace. The book highlights the problematic phenomena of unilateral control and offers insights on how to embrace the mutual-learning mindset to empower both the individuals and the team as a whole. By understanding and implementing key values — transparency, curiosity, informed choice, accountability, and compassion — teams become unstuck and successfully navigate dynamic corporate landscapes.

Moving Beyond Traditional Leadership

Corporate leadership teams can break free from restrictive behavior patterns by challenging their assumptions and adopting effective teamwork tactics. The commonly accepted principle of having a single leader proves flawed in practice, leading to a “unilateral-control mindset” that inhibits the team’s intelligence and effectiveness. Instead, teams should operate without a predefined leader and embrace open communication, curiosity, and accountability. This allows each team member to contribute their views and encourages holding each other accountable for success or failure. By abandoning the notion of a single all-knowing leader, teams can cultivate a culture of collaboration and innovation.

Overcoming Unilateral Control

The dangers of unilateral control in team leadership and how to recognize and change it.

Most leaders operate with a unilateral-control attitude, even when they claim to be open and cooperative with team members. This mindset assumes that the leader always knows best and acts from pure motives, while team members may have ulterior purposes. It preordains rigid thinking, patterns of behavior and responses to any situation. As a result, the leader must prevail in any dispute. Leaders often believe that they think logically and that their members seldom think clearly at all.

Unilateral control reinforces the results that leaders and their teams are trying to avoid. It is often seen in action when team members are told only to do as the leader requires. The basic values of a unilaterally controlled leader include: winning instead of losing, being right all the time, minimizing expression of negative feelings and acting rational.

The negatives of unilateral control are that it decreases commitment, strains working relationships, reduces team learning and promotes inappropriate dependence on others. Unilateral leaders make incorrect assumptions such as thinking that they understand the situation while those who disagree do not, that they are always right while those who disagree are wrong, and that their motives, feelings and behaviors are always justified. They also believe that they are not contributing to the problem.

Even the most oblivious leader can change their mindset. To do so, they must recognize the basic values of a unilaterally controlled leader and make an effort to listen to team members’ ideas and contributions. Every incorrect assumption or inference made undercuts the ability to find a solution that works for everyone. It is essential to avoid unilateral control, as it leads to ineffective leadership and suboptimal team performance.

The Pitfalls of Unilateral-Control Mindset

A unilateral-control mindset can result in restrictive and unproductive behaviors such as not asking for team members’ ideas, sharing only selective information, and avoiding tough decisions. This mindset can lead to poor team performance, unproductive relationships, and overall decrease in team members’ well-being. Team members may comply with this approach, even though they may feel frustrated, as it represents accepted wisdom. Unilateral control can limit the group’s success and lead both the leader and the team to a wasteland of unilateralism. A leader should give up on always being right, promote the concept of every member being a team leader, and help team members become accountable to each other. Leaders can change their attitudes and behaviors by changing their mindset and embracing a mutual-learning mindset. The more leaders use it, the more they strengthen it. A mutual-learning mindset leads to productive team performance, effective relationships, and enhances team members’ well-being.

Mutual-Learning Leadership

Embrace transparency, curiosity, informed choice, accountability, and compassion to improve your leadership and team performance. In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge introduces the concept of mutual-learning leaders who prioritize “I understand some things. So do you. Let’s learn and move forward together.” Unlike other leadership approaches that lose effectiveness as knowledge spreads, mutual-learning values transparency, curiosity, informed choice, accountability and compassion, enabling everyone to make intelligent decisions with the right information. By creating a culture of mutual learning where team members hold each other accountable, appreciate different viewpoints, and recognize each other’s feelings, leaders can achieve better results and foster growth. The mutual-learning approach assumes that everyone can make a valuable contribution, each person brings unique experience and insight, differences are opportunities for learning, people with different views may still have pure motives, and leaders may sometimes impede their teams with ineffective behavior. By practicing mutual-learning leadership, leaders can create a supportive and collaborative environment that drives success.

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