The Law of the Edge

The difference between two equally talented teams is leadership, and that’s the Law of the Edge.  The Law of the Edge is put forth in John C. Maxwell’s book The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork.  The Law of the Edge is truly indisputable.  No team can achieve true greatness without great leadership.  Some leaders are less vocal than others and therefore garner less attention, but every great team has great leadership, which may feature multiple leaders.  While a “manager” may keep a team at its current level, a leader pushes the team to excel. Leadership is the essential characteristic that turns potential into greatness.

There are several things that define The Law of the Edge and therefore define great leaders.

Leaders Transfer Ownership of Work to Those That Execute the Work

The success of any given organization is dependent upon the depth of that organization.  Good leaders don’t constrict people.  Instead, they release them. Delegating tasks makes team members realize that their participation is vital to the success of the organization. Transferring ownership to the person that executes the work allows them to take responsibility for the task.  With responsibility comes praise for success and accountability for failure.

Effective leaders understand that they must set up their team members for success.  If you want to see your team fail, give team members unclear instructions about what needs to be done.  I once worked for a person that was very poor at giving instructions, but very good at scolding people when the tasks were not completed per their un-communicated vision.  That team was destined to failure from the beginning primarily because the leader could not communicate the task that needed to be done.  It wasn’t long before the various team members, myself included, went looking for a different team.

Communication is essential in delegating tasks.  All communication must be clear, concise and considerate.  If one of your team members fails to accomplish a task, look at yourself first and ask whether the fault lies with your instructions.  If that’s not the case, then you must hold that team member accountable.  “Countability” is another Indisputable Law of Teamwork.  We must be able to count on all team members and that means holding them accountable.  Holding team members accountable allows them to learn and become stronger.

Leaders Create an Environment Where Each Team Member Wants to be Responsible

Good leaders know how to read people.  Understanding how people process information and, therefore, how they are motivated is essential to leadership.  If you have not done some other form of introspective work to discover what type of person you are (start by reading Personality Plus by Florence Littauer), then the odds that you will be a good leader are low.  You may have great leadership characteristics, but unless you can relate to others on their level it is difficult to create an environment where everyone will flourish.  Without that environment people will shy away from taking on responsibility and the leader will be left to do all the work.  Eventually, the team no longer exists.

One way to create a positive environment is by acknowledging people when they succeed.  Our society, in particular the media, seems to focus almost exclusively on failures.  To combat this negative environment we must focus on success.  If a team member isn’t pulling their weight, then there is going to be a conversation, but it will happen in private.  Publicly, success is the language of our team.  Every week we feature one person on our team that has accomplished something special.  People want to hear their names on our calls and see their names in our newsletters, so we’ve created an environment where people want to take on responsibility.

Leaders Coach the Development of Personal Capabilities

Effective leaders understand that for the team to succeed each player must reach his potential.  Of course, every player has a different potential, but unrealized potential is a killer of teams.  In order to be a good leader, you must actively mentor your team members and help them realize their potential.

This characteristic starts with the leader(s). If the team leader(s) are not dedicated to self improvement, then it will be difficult for them to ask team members to make that commitment.  Furthermore, the leader who doesn’t improve him/her self is ill equipped to recommend personal development resources.  I’m currently reading Tony Dungy’s book The Mentor Leader, which I highly recommend.  My goal with this book is to become a more effective mentor to our team members.  Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers Coach Phil Jackson is notorious for making his players read books on personal development.  These books typically have nothing to do with basketball and everything to do with working together to achieve greatness.  Jackson did this because he knew that winning NBA Championships is about far more than basketball skills.

Leaders Learn Quickly and Encourage others to Learn Rapidly

The best leaders lead by example.  This lifts others to the leader’s level.  To lead by example, the leader must be quick to adapt to circumstances and learn what is happening around them. Once the leader has assessed the situation, it becomes their task to make sure everyone else understands the issues.  This is an essential aspect of leadership.  Don’t let your team find out something important when it is too late to do anything.

Leaders Promote Leaders

Team leadership rarely is held by one person. Different people on the team need to step into leadership roles at different times.  Everyone that steps into a leadership role must accept responsibility for the outcome and leaders understand that.  While Maxwell does not discuss this characteristic in The Law of the Edge, I believe it is essential.  A strong team always has developing leaders.  The team leaders must, on some level, always be focused on replacing themselves.  This activity ensures that the team endures and allows the leader to focus on larger and larger initiatives while the emerging leaders take on more responsibility.

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