This post will be directed at college graduates, who are heading into the working-world full time post-graduation. This information is relevant whether you landed your dream job right away or need to take a job that is a steppingstone to your dream career. Some of you will find yourselves in management or leadership roles quickly, while others can utilize this information to understand their boss or leader’s position. Even though the following information is targeted at young professionals, there are lessons to be learned for leaders of any age or level. Leadership topics are endless and have been studied for years. In the interest of focusing in on a certain portion of team leadership, we will look a leader’s “mental model”, and how that is the building block for team effectiveness.
What is mental model? Another way to define this term could be situational awareness. Either way, The Hill Model for Team Leadership as described on page 366 of Northouse says that “effective team performance begins with how the leader sees the situation that the team is experiencing” (2016). This is the first step in the process of determining team effectiveness or the desired outcomes of teamwork. Going one step further with mental model, looking at a recent study funded by China National Science Fund, researchers Fan, Wang, Lui, and Cai determined teams effectiveness can be correlated to how a leader focuses their mental model with prevention focus or promotion focus (Fan 2020). Leaders with prevention focus are described as having “high security and conversation needs and pursue the fulfillment of their duties by avoiding errors and mistakes” (Fan 2020). Think back to times when you were in a team setting. Did you have a leader like this? One who always seemed to be scared or worried. How did you team perform under this type of leadership? It is my guess that the team adopted that mentality as well. The researchers in China went on to define leaders with promotion focus as ones having “high growth and development needs and pursue the advancement and accomplishment by approaching ideals” (Fan 2020). In other words, these types of leaders are more interested in how to improve themselves and their teams for the greater good of the group. Which type of leader would you want to be or work for?
The intended target of that research in China was to determine why supervisors or leaders abuse subordinates. The study found that prevention and promotion focus are together part of a term called regulatory focus (figure below), which in turn, is a function of the “Conservation of Resources Theory” (Fan 2020). The study concludes when resources are limited, leaders tend to have a prevention focus which forces emotional exhaustion leading to abusive leadership traits. This in turn, affects team effectiveness. A leader who exhibits a promotion focus, will build their team up mentally, possibly even using shared leadership techniques to develop a more mentally resilient team who can handle stress and adapt to change for the betterment of the group. Shared leadership is a newer viewpoint in the research of leadership. This involves all members of the team contributing to parts of the leadership of the team. Current research indicates “shared leadership contributed to team effectiveness beyond traditional leadership” (PSUWC, 2020, L9). In today’s workforce, expect to see a lot more collaboration amongst teams in the workplace.
Again, ask yourself, what type of leader do I want to be? Do you want to be remembered as the boss who yelled and screamed their way to emotion exhaustion, not being happy with their career? Or do you want to be the leader who uplifted and empowered their team, creating a productive workplace to where tasks and goals are often accomplished? Remember, it’s all about the mental model you create for yourself that will help guide you through this process.
Fan, X.‐L., Wang, Q.‐Q., Liu, J., Liu, C. and Cai, T. (2020), Why do supervisors abuse subordinates? Effects of team performance, regulatory focus, and emotional exhaustion. J Occup Organ Psychol. doi:10.1111/joop.12307.
Northouse, Peter G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2020). PSYCH 485 Lesson 9: Team Leadership. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2040131/modules/items/28001787.