Category CSE Magazine
Title The Role of the Support Team: Ensuring the Leader's Success
Author/s Roland F. DeRenzo
Preview The daunting challenge at hand is to close the gap between rhetoric and reality in Christian education.

The support team's role is crucial in enabling the leader to lead with focus and success. John Maxwell has written extensively on the role of the team in the success of the organization. In his book The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork (2001, 32), he describes the "Law of the Niche." It states that "great things happen when all the players on the team take the role that maximizes their strengths-their talent, skill, and experience." According to Richard DuFour and Robert Eaker (2006, 103), authors of Professional Learning Communities at Work, a team is defined as "a group of people working interdependently toward a common goal for which members are mutually accountable."

The leadership model has changed over the last several decades from one person as the leader to more of a collaborative team. The old paradigm of the school leader having to be able to do all the variety of tasks that come with directing an organization has developed into what Maxwell (2006) in his newsletter Leadership Wired calls the "Superhero Syndrome." If leaders suffer from that condition, they have "the tendency to believe they can do everything themselves and should do everything themselves." The danger in this thinking and practice is that over time it results in separation anxiety-the leader believes that the organization cannot survive without him or her. Some signs of this condition are skipping vacations, micromanaging, and placing unreal expectations on coworkers. Maxwell writes that another symptom of Superhero Syndrome is "delegation deficiency," a term meaning that leaders "do not trust the quality of anyone else's work" and "as a result, such leaders run themselves ragged trying to manage every aspect of the business."

Research has overwhelmingly substantiated the idea that Maxwell writes about in his book The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork; he discusses the law of significance, which states that "one is too small a number to achieve greatness" (2001, 4). The research is clear that collaborative teams are more advantageous in achieving organizational success. Richard DuFour wrote an article defining the genius of collaborative teams in the educational journal The School Administrator in 2003. DuFour lists two advantages of team collaboration. The first advantage is that the people in the organization have a clear sense of the mission they are to accomplish, and second is that collaborative teams engage in collective inquiry into not only best practices for accomplishing the objectives but also the current reality of the conditions of the organization.

The gap between what we know (the knowledge base) and what we do (the implementation phase) is still wide, and our behavior doesn't consistently match our collective beliefs. Our next step is to explore how to close the gap. Looking at the Apollo 13 crisis, we can see an excellent example of a collaborative team and glean some universal principles that can serve as the foundation of building a true team that functions interdependently with the senior leader. In the movie Apollo 13 (Broyles and Reinert 1995), there is a scene in which the team of engineers and the system directors, along with the flight director, are all gathered in one room discussing the problem of how to get the three stranded astronauts back to the earth safely in their crippled spacecraft.

The following are the steps they used. First, they focused on the mission. The flight director gathered all the system directors and engineers (his support team) in a room to refocus on their key objectives. Their goal was to send a man into space, have him land on the moon, and then make sure he returned safely to the earth. Their highest priority was to find a way to bring the three astronauts back to the earth safely once the spacecraft had been damaged.

Step two was to engage in collective inquiry. The whole community of directors, analysts, and astronauts worked together to solve the problem of trying to harness enough power for the crippled spacecraft to start up and reenter the earth's atmosphere. They needed to function in a flexible arrangement with the goal of finding a new way that didn't currently exist in order to bring the three men back home safely.

The third step was to develop organizational flexibility. The team had to solve the problems that cropped up unexpectedly. One of the biggest problems was the build up of CO2 in the smaller lunar module that was now serving as the1 temporary home for three men. It was designed only to handle two passengers and roam the moon. With the third person, the CO2 levels had built up to a dangerous concentration. The team was able to build a "makeshift filter" that was able to rid the cabin of the unacceptable levels of CO2.

These individuals, from a variety of departments, exemplified the definition of a collaborative team. They worked interdependently, applying their collective strengths and expertise to reach one common objective, which was to bring the three astronauts home safely.

What are the essentials of a collaborative team? At Colorado Springs Christian Schools (CSCS), we have been developing some aspects of a professional learning community the past few years by applying the collaborative team concept in our leadership. By doing so, we have identified several key ingredients needed to ensure success for both the leader and the team.

The first ingredient is a team that embraces the mission of the organization. Along with owning the mission, the team must collectively develop the essential objectives that will ensure accomplishment of the mission. Second, the board of directors needs to adopt a clear governance model that will provide the environment for the selected leadership to lead and maintain a culture that encourages collaborative teams. Next, the team needs a senior leader who believes in the mission and who will work passionately toward the accomplishment of the mission by willingly being held to the achievement of the collective objectives.

Then a school must assess the strengths, temperament, and skills of each member of the leadership team. At CSCS, we use the DISC Dimensions of Behavior (www.rds-net .com/disc.htm) to assess the temperament profile of the members, along with using a spiritual gift inventory. These assessments allow us to give individuals the opportunities that best match their abilities.

Last, a school would benefit from choosing team members who support the strengths of the senior leader and compensate for his or her weaknesses. Along with this ingredient, ongoing training and challenging opportunities should be part of the annual leadership plan for the team. At CSCS, our leadership team works on a specific topic of leadership each year, and we use a portion of our regular meeting time to learn and share together. This time provides each the opportunity to lead a segment of the training, thereby building both confidence and credibility in all members of the team.

Today in education, we face conditions that are similar to the ones the Apollo 13 flight faced. The daunting challenge at hand is to close the gap between rhetoric and reality in Christian education. Leadership plays a key role in the accomplishment of this challenge. Schools that are organized for success in the twenty-first century will be characterized by a leadership paradigm that has-at its heart- collaboration marked by a team of interdependent members who are working together toward the common goal and being held mutually accountable for the results.


Arbinger Institute. 2002. Leadership and self-deception: Getting out of the box. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Broyles, William, Jr., and Al Reinert. 1995. Apollo 13. Directed by Ron Howard. Hollywood, CA: Universal Studios.

DuFour, Richard. 2003. Building a professional learning community. The School Administrator (May).

DuFour, Richard, andRobert Eaker. 2006. Professional learning communities at work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Lencioni, Patrick. 2000. The four obsessions of an extraordinary executive: A leadership fable. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. .

2002. The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Maxwell, John C. 2001. The 17 indisputable laws of teamwork: Embrace them and empower your team. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. . 

2002. The 17 essential qualities of a team player: Becoming the kind of person every team wants. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. .

2006. Picking potential leaders-part 2. Leadership Wired 9, no. 6 (March), http://www.maximumimpact .com/Newsletters/leadership/Archives/2006/9_6.txt.

Roland F. DeRenzo, EdD
Superintendent, Colorado Springs Christian Schools President,
Handprints Early Education Centers
Colorado Springs, Colorado

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