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Why Leaders Fail to Design a Great Team: Obstacle #3 - Leaders Lack Competence and Confidence:

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

See Obstacle #1 Here and Obstacle #2 Here.

Obstacle #3 - Leaders Lack Competence and Confidence:

A third obstacle to building a great team is leaders who lack the competence and confidence to design and manage a high-performing team. They may have the vision and desire, and willing to make the needed changes, but they just don’t have the knowledge and skills to do so with any degree of assurance.


The task is placed on leaders to shape their team, but they are often not given the authority to do it. It's possible that leaders aren't actively recruiting new members for their teams because they don't have the training they need to locate and entice the best possible applicants. They might be hesitant to recruit new team members or confused about what to do with team members who aren't contributing to the team's success. It's possible that they are unable to properly recruit, train, and manage team members, which results in a lack of productivity and engagement on the part of those team members.

They may believe they don't have the power to make decisions regarding their team, or that they don't believe it's their job to do so. This lack of confidence can develop into a state of learned helplessness, which is characterized by the leader's perception that they are unable to affect any changes in the situation. This can be accompanied by an expression of self-defeating ideas, such as "I don't have time," "They're just going to quit anyway," or "I don't get paid enough for this." These unproductive habits of thought can result in inaction and apathy, which, in the long run, can be detrimental to the efficiency of the team. We will dig more into this in the following chapters.


This challenge can be especially difficult for young or inexperienced leaders who lack the knowledge or training necessary to develop an effective team and who have not yet gained the necessary experience. Regrettably, well-intentioned businesses frequently promote managers into positions with responsibilities they are not prepared to handle, and they do this even though such promotions are counterproductive. In several fields, this is now considered standard practice rather than the exception.

Another issue that can arise is that leaders may not see team design and management as their responsibility. They may believe that their job is simply to oversee the team and ensure that they are meeting their goals. However, effective team design and management is critical to achieving those goals. Leaders must take ownership of this responsibility and ensure that they are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to build and manage a high-performing team.

Learned Helplessness:

The Law of Learned Helplessness is another element that might contribute to leaders lacking competence and confidence in the process of designing and managing teams. It is possible, according to this law, for people to give up and become helpless when they are repeatedly confronted with difficult situations or experience failure. This can lead to self-defeating thinking, such as the excuse-game, in which leaders create excuses for why they are unable to act to better their team. This can be detrimental to the team's overall performance. Alternately, they could play the blame game by placing the blame for their team's failures on external factors such as the state of the job market or the economy. The victim-game is another self-defeating cognitive pattern, in which leaders believe they are unable to make a difference and regard themselves as helpless victims of their environment. Finally, playing the entitlement game might leave leaders with the impression that certain responsibilities are beneath them or that they are not being adequately compensated for their efforts.

Falling Short:

These self-defeating thought patterns lead to leaders becoming passive and lacking the confidence to act to establish a strong team. As a result, these leaders are less effective. They may want for change in an inactive manner or participate in behaviors that are only cosmetic in nature to maintain appearances, but they do not actively take the efforts necessary to bring about changes that are long-lasting. As a result of being placed in a situation that appears to be unattainable, they begin to feel animosity. They just do not possess the necessary skills, at least not at the level of maturity that is currently expected. As a direct consequence of this, the team performs poorly, and the organization has a difficult time achieving its objectives.

I feel it is important to point out that it is also the responsibility of high-level leaders or owners to put in the time and effort necessary to improve their own leadership skills and to provide a positive environment for their team leaders to work in. The development of a team leader is impossible to achieve without the support and participation of the organization, which comes from its dedication to the mission.

A Fish Out of Water:

The ability to identify when one is not the best person for the position is essential for leaders. They may need to look for another role within the firm if they do not have the expertise or skills necessary to effectively build and manage a team. Alternatively, they may want to consider getting some training and support to develop their talents. It takes guts and self-awareness to admit when you might not be the ideal person for a role, but ultimately, recognizing it can be to the benefit of both the leader and the business.

Finally, the third obstacle to building a successful team lies in leaders lacking the competence and confidence needed for effective team design and management. The challenge stems from a lack of authority, training, and the perception that team-related decisions are not within their purview. Confidence issues may lead to a state of learned helplessness, where leaders feel incapable of effecting positive changes. Competence becomes a significant hurdle, particularly for young or inexperienced leaders thrust into roles without adequate preparation. The Law of Learned Helplessness contributes to self-defeating thinking patterns, hindering proactive leadership and resulting in a passive approach to team development. These leaders may engage in cosmetic behaviors but fall short of initiating long-lasting changes, leading to resentment and poor team performance. It emphasizes the responsibility of high-level leaders and owners to invest in improving leadership skills and fostering a positive environment for team leaders. Ultimately, leaders must recognize when they are not the best fit for a role and have the courage to seek alternative positions or invest in training for personal and organizational growth.

Joel Smith

Business Coach, Author and Entrepreneur

This article is a section out of the book Team Design: Building Great Teams By Attracting the Right People. Download the Free PDF version.

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