The Oxford dictionary definition of leadership is as follows…

“The act of leading a group of people or an organisation”.

In organisations and certainly in sports settings, these groups of people are referred to as teams. An organisation can be simply described as a group of teams. Whether leading people in an individual team, or the whole organisation, the challenges are similar, just at different scales. If you lead an organisation, the likelihood is you lead a group of people, who themselves lead groups of people.

Whenever there is a group of people there is interdependence. Performance therefore emerges from the relationships between the people in the team more than the performance of everyone within the team in isolation. As already mentioned, the challenge is scalable and at an organisational level, performance emerges from the interdependence between the teams that make up the organisation.

In any complex environment, the person closest to the action is the one that can influence the performance the greatest. In any group setting (meetings, project work, groups of coaches) this is the person who is speaking, and this is constantly changing.

Appreciation of this transience instils both a concurrent sense of ultimate power and ultimate humility. Power because in the moment we have the opportunity to impact a whole system, humility because there is so much we cannot perceive and therefore, cannot control. The content and style of delivery will influence the thoughts, feelings and thus behaviours of all of the other group members.

As leaders in performance environments, we have to make our followers aware of this tension and challenge them to lean into the space from which performance will emerge.

To foster this, leaders must make it safe psychologically for their followers by modelling good behaviours and encouraging critique of their own input, as well as constructively critiquing others.

Diverse groups provide greater power when making decisions in complexity because different people hold disparate perspectives, and therefore insight, of the same problem. Each person takes the information presented to them and reflects on it with their existing body of knowledge to form a judgement.

Whilst we are aware that complexity scales upwards (from each group, to the organisation, to that organisation within the league it performs in), we cannot forget it also scales downwards as well, from the team as a whole to the relationships between each team member, down to the individual team members themselves.

Each person in the team is unique. Their genes, the place they were born, their parents, educational experiences, and career path to date all factor in the way that they see the world. The position they then hold in our group will then add another layer of complexity to their behaviour and decision making.

Each of us is on a singular journey which no-one else can truly appreciate. As we travel through this life, we are constantly confronted with the need to react and make decisions for ourselves which we could not have foreseen and for which we cannot know the outcome.

We must position ourselves to be able to make the best decision we can in the circumstances without being unduly affected by external circumstances. As the poet and activist Maya Angelou wrote…

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” (1)

We are then, the leader of our own life and responsible for the path that we follow. As we interact with others, we move back up the scale of complexity and our responsibilities scale up as well.

The old aphorism “How you do anything is how you do everything” applies here. We must take the same processes and behaviours we apply to ourselves and implement with others.

Think of a long chat between old friends catching up in a pub. At the start of the conversation they are unaware of what they will discuss, but two hours later they emerge having covered a wide range of topics, perhaps having cried with laughter, and in sorrow. This experience emerged from listening and watching each other and reacting to what was being said and how it was delivered. They gave themselves and each other space and time to freely express their thoughts and feelings and respond with deep connection, they took turns leading.

If we then scale up again to the team level, the ability to influence the outcome shifts from person to person. Each member of the team must be able to speak when appropriate but recognise when others need to chime in, both key leadership skills. As we interact as a team then, we all have a responsibility lead at any given moment.

John C. Maxwell, the Leadership expert has described the leader as the one who…

“Knows the way, shows the way and goes the way” (3)

Many designated leaders of teams reach their positions because they are experienced. They have reached a place where they are seeing shapes and not numbers and can quicker interpret the environment in front of them and the dynamics of their team. They can skilfully interpret these dynamics to furnish a space for everyone to provide their valid opinions and feel heard.

As social animals we have a highly tuned sense of hierarchy, and those designated as leaders often hold greater influence over the situation. As the designated leader in a group, speaking first can often fill the space into which we need group member to lean and offer up their ideas and opinions. Whether we like it or not, the leader’s opinions will hold greater weight for the team members and influence the ultimate decision making, for better or worse.

Great leaders are then able to place the needs of their team above their own self-interest. As author and leadership researcher Simon Sinek describes in his book Leaders Eat Last

“The true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest”

Leadership then begins with us as individuals and scales up as we interact with others. We are all privileged at any given moment to be in the leadership hot seat and must recognise our responsibilities as such. The final stanza of the popular poem Invictus by William Earnest Henley is as follows…

It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul. (2)

We are all practising leadership of one.

Think on…

  • How can I position myself to react best to a given situation?
  • Do I recognise moments when I am leading, and when others need to lead?
  • How do I provide space for others to lead?
  • Do you judge yourself as fairly as you judge others?
  1. Angelou, M. (2008). Letter to my daughter. New York, Random House.
  2. Invictus (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2023, from
  3. Maxwell John C. 2014. Quotes from John Maxwell : Insights on Leadership. Nashville Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group.