The strength of the leaders in a team

When we speak about "leadership", we tend to spontaneously think about the leadership of the formal leader; the CEO or team manager within an organisation or the coach within a sport team. The leadership of other key figures in the team is thereby often underestimated. By actively taking up leadership responsibilities, team members can play a key role in optimising the team's functioning.

Recent analyses show that within organisations, you find talented informal leaders at all levels of whom the leadership potential is often unutilised. Also within sport teams, leadership talent is often not optimally harnessed. Although one often looks at the team captain for leadership, research shows that in the majority of the teams rather other players than the captain take the lead, both on and off the field. 

Read more about the role of the team captain.

When team members with leadership talent are not formally appointed in their leadership role, it is likely that they will not maximally use their leadership potential (e.g., out of fear of being criticised by team members or by their formal leader). And that would be a real pity as research shows that these leaders within the team have huge potential to improve the team's functioning.

We are pleased to share our research that evidenced the importance of these key figures in the team. To examine whether leaders within the team had indeed such a significant impact on the team effectiveness, we conducted a series of scientific studies. Read below more about the design and results of each of our studies.

We conclude that leaders do have a strong impact on team members' team confidence, motivation, and performance. These studies confirm the benefits of having good leaders who can inspire their teammates, spread their contagious enthusiasm throughout the team, and improve the performance of their teammates.

At the same time, these studies warn for the risks of bad leadership. When the wrong leaders are chosen and they show on decisive moments that they have given up, then also this lack of team confidence will spread quickly throughout the team, with disastrous consequences for team members' performance.

 To identify the right leaders in the team and maximally harvest the strength of these leaders, we strongly suggest to use our Shared Leadership Mapping

Read more about our studies on this topic:

The power of empowerment: Predictors and benefits of shared leadership in organizations

Edelmann, C., Boen, F., & Fransen, K. (2020). The power of empowerment: Predictors and benefits of shared leadership in organizations. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 582894. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.582894

    Making ‘us’ better: High-quality athlete leadership relates to health and burnout in professional Australian football teams.

    Fransen, K., Haslam, S. A., Steffens, N. K., Mallett, C., Peters, K., & Boen, F. (2020). Making ‘us’ better: High-quality athlete leadership relates to health and burnout in professional Australian football teams. European Journal of Sport Science, 20(7), 953–963. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2019.1680736

    The emergence of shared leadership in newly formed teams with an initial structure of vertical leadership: A longitudinal analysis.

    Fransen, K., Delvaux, E., Mesquita, B., & Van Puyenbroeck, S. (2018). The emergence of shared leadership in newly formed teams with an initial structure of vertical leadership: A longitudinal analysis. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 54(2), 140-170. doi:10.1177/0021886318756359

    An experiment on the impact of coaches’ and athlete leaders’ competence support on athletes’ motivation and performance.

    Mertens, N., Boen, F., Vande Broek, G., Vansteenkiste, M., & Fransen, K. (2018). An experiment on the impact of coaches’ and athlete leaders’ competence support on athletes’ motivation and performance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 12, 2734-2750. doi:10.1111/sms.13273

    The power of competence support: The impact of coaches and athlete leaders on intrinsic motivation and performance.

    Fransen, K., Boen, F., Vansteenkiste, M., Mertens, N., & Vande Broek, G. (2018). The power of competence support: The impact of coaches and athlete leaders on intrinsic motivation and performance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 28, 725-745. doi:10.1111/sms.12950

    The competence-supportive and competence-thwarting role of athlete leaders: An experimental test in a soccer context.

    Fransen, K., Vansteenkiste, M., Vande Broek, G., & Boen, F. (2018). The competence-supportive and competence-thwarting role of athlete leaders: An experimental test in a soccer context. PLoS ONE, 13(7), e0200480. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0200480

    Is perceived athlete leadership quality related to team effectiveness? A comparison of three professional sports teams.

    Fransen, K., Haslam, S. A., Mallett, C. J., Steffens, N. K., Peters, K., & Boen, F. (2017). Is perceived athlete leadership quality related to team effectiveness? A comparison of three professional sports teams. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 20, 800-806. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2016.11.024

    We will be champions: Leaders' confidence in 'us' inspires team members' team confidence and performance.

    Fransen, K., Steffens, N. K., Haslam, S. A., Vanbeselaere, N., Vande Broek, G., & Boen, F. (2016). We will be champions: Leaders' confidence in 'us' inspires team members' team confidence and performance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 26(12), 1455–1469. doi:10.1111/sms.12603

    Athlete leadership in sport teams: Current understanding and future directions.

    Cotterill, S. T., & Fransen, K. (2016). Athlete leadership in sport teams: Current understanding and future directions. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 9(1), 116-133. doi:10.1080/1750984X.2015.1124443

    Leading from the top or leading from within? A comparison between coaches' and athletes' leadership as predictors of team identification, team confidence, and team cohesion.

    Fransen, K., Decroos, S., Vande Broek, G., & Boen, F. (2016). Leading from the top or leading from within? A comparison between coaches' and athletes' leadership as predictors of team identification, team confidence, and team cohesion. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 11(6), 757–771. doi:10.1177/1747954116676102

    When do elite cyclists go the extra mile? Team identification mediates the relationship between perceived leadership qualities of the captain and social laboring.

    De Cuyper, B., Boen, F., Van Beirendonck, C., Vanbeselaere, N., & Fransen, K. (2016). When do elite cyclists go the extra mile? Team identification mediates the relationship between perceived leadership qualities of the captain and social laboring. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 47(4), 355-372. doi:10.7352/IJSP 2016.47

    Believing in us: Exploring leaders’ capacity to enhance team confidence and performance by building a sense of shared social identity.

    Fransen, K., Haslam, S. A., Steffens, N. K., Vanbeselaere, N., De Cuyper, B., & Boen, F. (2015). Believing in us: Exploring leaders’ capacity to enhance team confidence and performance by building a sense of shared social identity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 21(1), 89-100. doi:10.1037/xap0000033

    Perceived sources of team confidence in soccer and basketball.

    Fransen, K., Vanbeselaere, N., De Cuyper, B., Vande Broek, G., & Boen, F. (2015). Perceived sources of team confidence in soccer and basketball. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 47(7), 1470–1484. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000561

    The myth of the team captain as principal leader: Extending the athlete leadership classification within sport teams.

    Fransen, K., Vanbeselaere, N., De Cuyper, B., Vande Broek, G., & Boen, F. (2014). The myth of the team captain as principal leader: Extending the athlete leadership classification within sport teams. Journal of Sports Sciences, 32(14), 1389-1397. doi:10.1080/02640414.2014.891291

    The impact of athlete leaders on team members’ team outcome confidence: A test of mediation by team identification and collective efficacy.

    Fransen, K., Coffee, P., Vanbeselaere, N., Slater, M., De Cuyper, B., & Boen, F. (2014). The impact of athlete leaders on team members’ team outcome confidence: A test of mediation by team identification and collective efficacy. The Sport Psychologist, 28(4), 347-360. doi:10.1123/tsp.2013-0141

    "Yes, we can!": Perceptions of collective efficacy sources in volleyball.

    Fransen, K., Vanbeselaere, N., Exadaktylos, V., Vande Broek, G., De Cuyper, B., Berckmans, D., . . . Boen, F. (2012). "Yes, we can!": Perceptions of collective efficacy sources in volleyball. Journal of Sports Sciences, 30(7), 641-649. doi:10.1080/02640414.2011.653579