Early on in my leadership career I realised a lesson that no one had ever told me, and that I’ve never seen written down in a book, but one that I’ve found to be one of the most fundamental rules of leadership.
A united team can achieve anything. A disunited team will achieve nothing.
I first realised it when I joined a leadership team at a local church. We were a diverse group of people, supposedly coming together in our united desire to see the Kingdom of God advanced through our local church. But unfortunately, we didn’t seem to manage to agree on many things. Everyone became frustrated at the lack of progress. The result was paralysis – we didn’t seem to move anywhere, so we achieved nothing.
By contrast, on a team where people want to be there, where there is no back-biting and infighting, the energy released becomes contagious. People start to feel like they can achieve anything… and they frequently do. That’s because a united team can achieve anything. But a disunited team is guaranteed to achieve nothing.
My reading of history backs this up. I’m fascinated by political biographies (a great way to learn more about leadership), and I’ve just finished reading Peter Mandelson’s The Third Man. The biggest lesson I’ve taken from it? New Labour could have achieved far more if Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Mandelson hadn’t spent so much time arguing amongst themselves. The wasted energy they spent on all their infighting brought fatigue to themselves, and frequent paralysis to their Government.
It happens in every culture. Consider the incredible talent of leadership that appeared during the final years of the Roman Republic. There was Pompey, the greatest general Rome had ever known. Crassus, some say the wealthiest businessman who ever lived. Cicero, one of the greatest lawyers and orators of the ancient world. Cato, the puritanical zealot. And then Julius Caesar himself, the ultimate careerist politician. If those leaders could have worked together, who knows what the Roman Republic could have achieved? Instead, their rivalries and fighting brought about civil war, the collapse of the republic, and a power vacuum that ultimately created the Roman Empire, one of the most hated empires ever to conquer the globe.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. 1800 years after Caesar, another incredible group of leaders set aside their differences to work for the good of a nation. The United States of America was birthed because their Founding Fathers managed to find a way to work together. Men like George Washington (victorious general and first President), Thomas Jefferson (writer of the Declaration of Independence and first Secretary of State), James Madison (writer of the Constitution), Alexander Hamilton (first Treasury Secretary), John Adams (first Vice President) and Benjamin Franklin (ambassador, writer, politician) helped usher in the dawn of a new age, precisely because they managed to work together for a common good, rather than fight amongst themselves. They didn’t always agree with each other, but during those crucial early years of the USA’s existence, they managed to stay united as a team.
So how united is your team? Are you united around a clear vision? And are you committed to working with each other? If so, there’s no limit to what you can achieve. But if not, you will struggle to achieve anything.
Mark Williamson is a founding director of One Rock International. He’s a lay preacher and leader within the Methodist Church, author of a biography on John Wesley, and currently researching for a biography on William Wilberforce. He enjoys good films, good food, praying for London, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna.