Lead and Let Lead: Inspire, Equip, and Know When to Get Out of the Way

The best leaders know how to coordinate the collective talent of teams to complete mission-critical tasks and drive results. Sometimes teams need more of you, and sometimes they need less.

Promoting Effective Coordination

Effective coordination unfolds when team members integrate and align their separate tasks and actions,1 especially those that are dependent on one another to achieve success. This requires unity, where team members collectively establish goals, carry out tasks, and allocate resources so that interdependent group efforts are timed and executed in harmony.2

The members of high-performing teams intuitively and seamlessly share and coordinate goals, tasks, and resources as if they were one.

But unity doesn’t always happen automatically. Leaders must promote effective team coordination.

Three Coordination Approaches

Allsop et al. described two schools of thought regarding team coordination; I refer to these as leader-driven coordination and team-driven coordination.3 But I prefer a third approach which I call leader-facilitated coordination. Let’s take a look at these three.

1. Leader-Driven Coordination

Leader-driven coordination is a “top-down approach.”  It relies on the leader giving specific instructions to the team and requires members to process substantial information to carry out the instructions.4 The leader is in charge, making decisions and directing the team’s strategy.

When coordination is excessively leader-driven, it doesn’t give the team much autonomy. Instead, a better way to coordinate effort is to empower people through team-driven coordination. However, top-down team coordination isn’t always ineffective.

While excessive leader-driven coordination can be oppressive and can negatively impact performance, there are times when it’s necessary to promote efficiency.

The leader-driven approach produces more effective coordination during emergencies. In times of crisis, things can become chaotic if there are too many cooks in the kitchen. You can lose precious time to act if you stop to facilitate team discussion and obtain input.

Inability to respond quickly can contribute to higher levels of lost productivity and can make an already negative customer experience even worse. In dire circumstances, delayed action can be catastrophic; it could result in harm to property, personal injury, or loss of life. There are times when leaders must take control.

The best leaders learn how to shift their approach based on the circumstances. 

In leadership, there are no absolutes. No one leadership approach will work in every situation. Agility is paramount.

Sylvia Melena

2. Team-Driven Coordination

Team-driven coordination emerges spontaneously as a result of the interactions between team members.5 It gives them control over the team’s success. It empowers them to solve problems, come together without the leader, and make decisions to optimize results.  

The team-driven coordination approach is dynamic, engages members, and elevates performance. However, if not managed correctly, team-driven coordination can become haphazard. There’s a fine line between empowering the team to take control of the work and the corresponding results and being completely disengaged as a leader.

Without intentionality, what appears to be team-driven coordination can cross over into total avoidance“a hands-off approach where leaders relinquish their responsibility to lead, guide, inspire, and hold themselves and their employees accountable” for achieving results.6

As a leader, you can delegate the authority, but you’re still ultimately responsible for the results.

For this reason, I recommend the agile approach I call leader-facilitated coordination, which is led by the team, facilitated by the leader, and includes the leader as part of the team.

3. Leader-Facilitated Coordination

In Leader-facilitated coordination leaders nimbly shift between leader-driven and team-driven coordination based on the situation and do so in the spirit of supportive accountability.7

It involves supportiveness because leaders promote trust, effective communication, and empowerment to give their teams control over their work, engagement, and success.

It promotes accountability, as it requires clear communication of what is expected from the team in both quantitative and qualitative terms.

Leader-facilitated coordination casts vision, inspires action, and provides a clear sense of direction without moving into the realm of micromanagement.

It says, “I’m here to support you. Let me know what you need. Keep me informed, but I don’t need to approve all your decisions.  Please, don’t flood my inbox with a play-by-play of every move you make. I hired you because you add value. I trust you.”

In leader-facilitated coordination, managers develop team members’ knowledge, skills, abilities, and mindset to make decisions at their level and act on those decisions; this creates efficiency.

Managers also focus on building their leadership team’s capacity to determine when they need to communicate, elevate issues, and request support. As a result, leaders develop strong judgment and the courage to act quickly during emergencies.

The more managers build their teams’ capabilities to drive performance, the more they give themselves and their teams the freedom to succeed.


SYLVIA MELENA is the Founder and CEO of Melena Consulting Group and the author of Supportive Accountability: How to Inspire People and Improve Performance.


1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Allsop, Jamie S., Tomas Vaitkus, Dannette Marie, and Lynden K. Miles. “Coordination and Collective Performance: Cooperative Goals Boost Interpersonal Synchrony and Task Outcomes.” Frontiers in Psychology 7, no. 1462 (2016): 1- 11. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01462. Accessed: 10/31/18. Creative Commons License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

6, 7 Melena, Sylvia. “The Heart of Supportive Accountability.” Chap. 1 in Supportive Accountability: How to Inspire People and Improve Performance. La Mesa, CA: Melena Consulting Group, 2018.