The group worked for ninety minutes in a simulation to complete a complex task. Once the task sequence and its steps were decided and practiced, the test was to complete the entire sequence in a twenty minute time frame.
I stopped the simulation to ask a simple question. “Which of you is the leader?” There had been no formal selection, but the group immediately looked at Sam.
“What is it about Sam, that made him the leader?” I asked.
The team members exchanged glances, wondering if they were all thinking the same thing. “Well, Sam seemed to know how to organize this thing together,” Marvin volunteered.
“How did he do that? You have not worked together as a team before.”
There was a brief moment, then Kyle piped up. “Sam pulled us all together, asked questions about what each of us thought. Within three minutes, he had a plan, assigned some individual responsibilities and we started working.”
Sam was chosen as the leader because he understood the complexity of the situation better (at least faster) than the others.
At that moment, Emma stood up. She was sitting on the sidelines, in fact, I wondered if she was paying attention.
“I think we can complete this task in five minutes, instead of twenty,” she said.
All eyes turned. In an instant, a new leader emerged. Leadership is an observable phenomenon.