I recently finished Doris Kearns’ book, Team of Rivals. One of the cornerstones of the book is how Abraham Lincoln, having been elected president, populated key cabinet posts with men who had competed against him in the 1860 election, men who were accomplished in their own right.

Mr. Lincoln is unquestionably one of the great leaders in the history of the United States; after reading the book, I realized Mr. Lincoln did not just surround himself with other great leaders; he led them as a team.

It helped me to realize that leadership greatness often occurs when a leader of team is secure enough to populate it with other good leaders and then facilitates their individual as well as team success. It is when a leader builds a team that helps her to achieve outcomes she could not have produced on her own regardless of her individual greatness.

Reading Team of Rivals reminded me of one of my most enjoyable and productive leadership assignments.

I was invited to work for a vice president who had inherited a collection of previously independent organizations. When I joined the division it contained five organizations . . . and five vision statements, five mission statements, five sets of values, five strategies, etc.

Early on he required his direct reports to work as a team; any decisions that had division-wide implications were to be made by the team. He was so empowering in this regard that, as a leadership team, we met once a month with him and once a month without him.

In the short term, the development of one vision, one mission, and one strategy was the result of working as a team. In the long term our division made significant improvement in the operational cost and customer satisfaction portions of the JD Powers Survey.

The lesson for us as good leaders is that we increase our ability to lead well, i.e., effectively influence people to good outcomes, when we surround ourselves with other good leaders and contribute to their opportunity to do good and to be good.

Have you ever been part of a great team? How did that improve your individual leadership skills? I’d love to hear from you. Please send me a note via the contact form. As a thank you, I will send you an excerpt from my book, Transforming: The Power of Leading from Identity.