Learn and Lead

About continual learning and leadership

Case Study: First Amongst Equals

In my second case study, we look at a situation when one of the peers is expected to take on the leadership position amongst the team. Looking forward to your responses to learn what we can do in situations like these.


A meeting alert window popped up on Ajay’s computer reminding him of his meeting with Sangeeta, his boss. He clicked the snooze button and continued making last minutes changes to the spreadsheet he was working on. He was compiling performance data for his team that would be discussed in the impending meeting. The alert popped up again. Ajay disconnected his laptop and looked for a pen.

Sangeeta beckoned Ajay through the glass door and Ajay walked in her office without waiting. Ajay’s team had grown significantly and Sangeeta felt that all projects were not getting due attention. Also not all team members were getting the coaching that Ajay was capable of providing because he was spread too thin.

“I feel you need a Team Leader in your team Ajay. Have you got any suggestions?” Sangeeta started. They had recently discussed the growth of Ajay’s team and the related issues.

“Well, Archana and Rahul are the two key players in my team. Both are equally capable.” Ajay said as he opened his laptop.

“Who is more capable of leading a team? I understand that both are equally capable of executing projects, but we are really looking for leadership skills here.” Sangeeta said.

“Rahul is actually very good in customer communications. His work is also always very good and gets approved in the first round itself. And Archana is equally good. Rahul likes to be sure of what he is planning to do and bounces things off me while Archana goes ahead and takes decisions on her own.”

“And are her decisions wrong?” Sangeeta probed.

“Actually she has a good instinct. And she usually backs it up with well thought through strategy.” Ajay explained.

“What about the team? Which one of them works better with the team?”

“Rahul is just great with the team. He’s a great listener, practically an agony aunt actually. He almost never says anything negative to his team members. The team loves him. Archana’s also good with people but she’s more task focussed. She shows the team a vision and a goal and then helps them achieve it.” Ajay felt good that he had thought through strengths and weaknesses of Rahul and Archana.

“Seems like Archana probably will make a better Team Leader don’t you think?” Sangeeta asked.

“Most probably… but Rahul’s really good too. I don’t think we can ignore him. I wouldn’t want to lose him.” Ajay was beginning to look worried. He knew Archana was more independent and stronger and more capable leader of the two and yet was worried about what Rahul might feel about reporting to someone who has been his peer.

“Ajay, only one person can be the Team Leader, you know that.”



How do you think Ajay should handle the situation? How should he communicate to Archana and Rahul about the new Team Leader position?

How will Rahul take the news? What do you think he should do now that he will need to report to his peer?

How can Archana make Rahul more comfortable as a Team Leader? How can she graduate from the peer relationship to a supervisor relationship?



Venki said...

depends on the organization:
at GE the CEO comes from the peers. the usual convention is that the othere guys on the slate typically leave for other high profile jobs. teh organization is willing to pay teh price of the collateral damage.

in another organization leaders actually have to be picked by teh peer group. even if you are designated teh leader if teh peer group says no , that's it. i dont exactly remember but i think it was Semco.

another option is to move the other guys laterally---- which is what the external affairs ministry did when it appointed shiv shankar menon as the foreign secretary superceding more than 5 others.

Manish Mohan said...

Thanks for your insights Venki. Peer selection of leaders seems like an interesting thought. I wonder if there would be collateral damage in this method too.
I am guessing that things also depend on the leadership level in question within the organization and the job market situation.

Venki said...

might be . but you are right , a lot depends on the kind of organization.for instance a networked organization with great openness combined with brutal honesty-- the damage may be minimal and even sometimes welcome

Abhas Kumar said...

Venki - your recall as always is awesome ... Semco is the example that comes to mind for peer selection ... this link provides a good - if gushing - overview.

Venki part II qn. - "networked organization with great openness combined with brutal honesty" is quite a goal - so what would be the cliff notes version of steps to get any mortal leadership team thinking about their shared context on this topic? Lets call it the "Good to Great" version for leadership team evolution. I suspect that if you could facilitate an ongoing discussion with openness & brutal ... then you might even get the team to break the CW mould that assumes the GE way is the only outcome. Basically start with the null hypothesis that "there is a way to have a peer assume a leadership position without collateral damage" and then break down the problem to find deductive solutions - Ideas?

Venki said...

abhas--- great idea. so let us start withtnthe thought there wd be no collateral damage. so why would we not have collateral damage--- or when. here is a thought--- depends on the maslow's hierarchy at which the person is plus if npower is not too high and we can create an overarching goal where conceptually all roles have 'equal' relevance and weight where leadership is just one of them--- doesnt mckinsey run precisely that model?

Rajesh Pankaj said...

I think what we need to find is how to handle the scenario of unhappiness/psychology of the peers when one among them is getting a higher position. Because there are times where we can't afford to loose even a single member among the contestants

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