Observing the behaviours of a team leader

I am often asked what it means to be a leader in a work context. One way to figure this out is to observe someone in a leader role and what they are doing that the rest of the group either aren’t doing or are doing much less of.

Take for example, the role of hike leader. Someone who leads a bushwalk has to carry an additional load, both literally and figuratively. What are their behaviours and how do they relate to a work team leader? I’ve constructed the following table to help identify these behaviours. They are not in any particular order.

The leader is consciously paying attention to their responsibilities. The hikers/team members may pay attention to some of the details, but are mainly unaware of the these details or are choosing to let the leader lead, while they pay attention to what is most relevant to them.

Hike leader Work team leader
Has knowledge that others do or may not have, such as information about the area, plants, history, Has knowledge/expertise that others do or may not have, such as subject matter, process, or program expertise.
Taps others’ expertise. Doesn’t assume complete knowledge of a subject. Asks other walkers what they know. Taps others’ expertise, such as team members, colleagues, external experts.
Considers potential and real risks, alerts group so as to ensure safety. Considers potential and real risks of work situation to ensure staff safety, as well as risks of programs, such as political, environmental, social or economic risks.
Encourages group to keep going when the going gets tough, with comments like ‘Not much further’. Encourages team to keep going when the pressure is on, with verbal support.
Carries extra equipment such as first aid kit, maps, compass, GPS. May carry extra equipment, such as electronic devices.
Ensures safety of the group by taking a count, regularly counting numbers, establishing a buddy system. Ensures physical and psychological safety of the team. May use mentors or buddies to support individuals.
Points out features along the way. Encourages different viewpoints such as looking back at where we’ve been. Points out aspects of the work that needs attention, draws in observations of trends or passes on information from more senior staff.
Ensures everyone can sustain the walk by taking rest breaks. Builds resilience by ensuring staff maintain work-life balance.
Thoroughly prepares for the hike by checking out the walk first, providing walkers with information so as to make an informed decision. Thoroughly prepares using project management skills, budgets, plans, and provides team with information so as to make informed decisions.
Accommodates demographics of the group when considering transport and accommodation. Values the diversity of the team and taps people’s skills and strengths when considering allocation of work.
Has special skills such as navigation skills. Has special skills in management and leadership.
Provides treats to keep morale up. Recognises staff’s contributions, provides treats to keep morale up.
Inspires interest in other walks by speaking positively about them. Inspires interest in the future by creating positive images of work, changes, challenges in the workplace.
Lightens the load when someone struggles by taking some of their back pack contents. Reallocates work when someone struggles or provides additional support.
Explains the walk both verbally and by showing a map and tracing the route for the group. Explains the direction of the team, where they are headed, using a range of styles and formats.
Sets the pace so that the walk progresses at a speed that suits most walkers. Sets the pace in terms of deadlines so that work is completed on time, and adjustments made to work loads if needed to accommodate staff needs.


Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.