XX.XII.I Strong leaders and where to find them

ABCDE spectrum of Leadership
Dr. Albert Künstler
ABCDE: Levels of Leadership.

successful team is one that is well-organized and active, while an unproductive team is one that is led by an oppressive or incompetent boss, or a boss that suffers from a lack of leadership. To achieve good organization, people usually require a wise leader.

It is often difficult to find a strong captain for a project. Teams, businesses, and even countries can be stuck in a stagnant state for extended periods of time, waiting for a strong leader to come in and save them from their woes. People are wishing for a promised king or queen who can take up the mantle, pull the magical Excalibur sword from the stone, and begin a new wave of hope and prosperity. Everyone involved, from the team members to the top executives and investors, is eagerly awaiting this figure who can take on the project and bring about a positive change in their circumstances.

Finding a strong leader is especially difficult in research projects, as those require a combination of rare qualities; such as technical knowledge, a passion for money, and discipline. This is why many projects struggle to find someone who can monitor all aspects of the project with equal enthusiasm, including scientific and technical depth, customer satisfaction, deadlines, and profitability.

If there is no easy way to find an individual who can fulfill all the roles fully, it may be reasonable to fill the need for leadership at least partially.

Levels of Leadership: ABCDE

There are five leadership functions every team needs in order to be successful.

Vision. Every team must have a vision of what needs to be done and how to reach the desired objectives. This is not always obvious, especially in research projects where the means are not defined and uncertainties get in the way.

Motivation. The best way to motivate a team is by providing direct participation, collaboration, involvement in the team’s activities, and of course understanding the interests and passions of coworkers, wisely providing challenging tasks with appropriate compensation.

Deadlines: A team is not always able to solve a problem on their own, especially when they depend on other teams or external resources. For this reason, they need someone to coordinate effectively and put in the necessary effort in order to complete tasks on time.

Strategy: To solve tasks that may have long-term implications, it is essential to think and act strategically. This involves being able to comprehend and fulfill the needs of their superiors, clients, and other stakeholders in order to truly achieve satisfactory outcomes.

Profit: Perhaps the toughest challenge of all is to generate a profit. Many can solve problems when there are ample resources, however, few can succeed in achieving goals with obviously insufficient resources and still show a positive return on investment.

In your project, levels of leadership can gradually increase. If it is not possible to find an ultimate captain, it can be beneficial to distribute specific roles and responsibilities among team members, hire an external expert, or cultivate a future leader within the company.

It may happen that those who agree to take on leadership forget certain duties, or those who are capable may be unwilling to take on the full scope of leadership due to the high level of responsibility. In these cases, it is important to set expectations and decide which level of A, B, C, D, or E the team captain will take on.

dvisor. An external experienced expert can be of great help to a team in achieving its goals by helping to clarify the vision, to find solutions, make reviews, and provide feedback. This role, known as an Advisor, will not be responsible for the work itself or the deadlines and results, but can help to decompose the problem, make savvy assumptions, and resolve uncertainties. This is especially beneficial in projects with a high degree of novelty and exploration.

uddy. Having an internal driver can be beneficial in motivating the team, as in someone who is passionate and enthusiastic about the work and takes an active role in it can be of great value. This individual is not necessarily responsible for the end result, but their involvement is important to act as a “player-coach” or motivating force for the team when things get tough or the team is feeling less than enthusiastic.

oordinator. The ideal coordinator for a team is someone who is capable of leading the team toward achieving results, while managing to resolve any blockers or issues that come up, both internally and externally. The coordinator takes care of the deadlines and organizes communications within and outside the team. Ideally, such a leader should have the expertise of an Advisor and the co-creative spirit of a Buddy. If they lack technical knowledge, it is best to bring in an outside Advisor to help. However, make sure they do not quarrel because of the difference in their views. The coordinator is also valuable in assisting higher levels of management on larger projects.

irector. A coordinator who gains experience can advance to the director level. In this capacity, they are not only responsible for solving tasks coming from superiors, but also making strategic decisions, determining priorities, allocating resources, balancing interests, understanding organizational and individual goals of stakeholders and clients, finding compromises, and negotiating complex matters. However the director operates within certain limits of the budgets granted from above.

xecutive. The highest level of responsibility is that of a mini-CEO, as might be found in a project, line of business, or individual company. This role requires in-depth understanding and experience of all preceding levels. It necessitates the ability to set a vision, motivate a team, and coordinate tasks, as well as to align expectations and resolve conflicts. They must also be able to take calculated risks, achieve and maintain financial profitability of their endeavor.

The higher level leaders don’t necessarily need to be at all the lower levels, but they need to have all the lower levels organized. For example, Coordinators may not be experts in what their teams do, but they should find Advisors to help their teams to resolve technical hindrances, in order to deliver on deadlines. Executive may not act as a Buddy or a Coordinator in every team of their business unit, but they need to have such people under their supervision in order to achieve profitability.

Aspiring to have a strong leader able to face challenges and yield growth and profitability is a cherished dream of many big bosses and investors. If such a leader is not present on your team yet, organizing work and implementing OPERA cycles with particular responsibilities of the full ABCDE leadership spectrum can still give you a competitive edge. Teams that strive to perform and grow can become attractive for an external strong leader willing to join them or eventually develop a true captain from within.