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Stephen McDonnell

Stephen McDonnell

28th Feb 2019

Stephen McDonnell is an Intercounty Munster championship winning captain and an organisational top team leadership, performance & team coach.

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Effective Leadership for Winning Teams

A recent study conducted by Wohoo Inc of over 700 global employees presents that poor management and mediocre leadership is the No.1 cause of unhappiness at work. When leaders lead poorly or incorrectly, it breeds a toxic culture. It sends employees racing to update resumes. People don’t leave jobs – they leave managers, as they say.

Similarly, if leaders lead effectively, it creates high performing cultures that lead to enjoyment and achievement at all levels. So, what does Effective Leadership look like?

Leadership begins with you. The truth is that you make a difference. The question is not, “Will I make a difference?” Rather it is, “What difference will I make?”

Leading Yourself

Before you can lead others, you have to lead yourself and believe that you can have a positive impact on others. If you are trying to lead a high performing team culture, you must first look at your own culture and develop self-mastery. That is, what are your behaviours, norms and attitudes that you habitually live by? Are these high performing?

I have developed a tried and tested approach to help executives to successfully lead themselves and gain self-mastery – the 4P Method to Self-Mastery.

  • Principles – Living as per your values and character
  • Passions – Doing the activities and work you enjoy
  • Priorities – Honoring your real Priorities in life
  • Purpose – Leading from purpose, understanding what you stand for and where you are heading

A lack of self-mastery, meaning and purpose is a major cause of despondency and despair within organisations and in the world. Developing this level of self-awareness and bringing that to fruition, regaining the captaincy of your ship and putting plans in place to stay on your course is the foundational stage of Effective Leadership.

Leading Others

Effective leaders create leaders within their team and construct self-sustaining, strong teams that can easily thrive without them. There are many models out there on effective leadership of others. I want to focus on three core questions in this instance. These questions represent what every teammate and follower is asking of their leader consistently.

  • Competence – Are you good at what you do?
  • Trust – Can I trust you?
  • Compassion – Do you care about me?

Imagine the performance and achievement of a team that answers yes to all of the above questions when asked about their leader or manager. This admired leader is identified as:

  • Never boastful.
  • Act with quiet, calm determination; rely on inspired standards and live them, not inspiring charisma/speeches.
  • Channel ambition into the company, not the self; set up successors for even greater success.
  • Look out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit (or take responsibility when things go wrong and give credit to others when things go right).
  • Always willing to learn and develop themselves as people.
  • Establishes an environment of accountability, collaboration and enjoyment.
  • Provides opportunities for people to grow, both personally and professionally.
  • Cares about the team and acts with compassion.

Winning Teams

What does a winning team look like? (Picture Source)

These leaders can lead organisations and teams to significant levels of excellence. Businesses today are far more complicated and unwieldy than before, operating in this complex and uncertain world. Organisations benefit greatly with teams of complementary and compatible people who can collectively solve far more complex leadership challenges.

As a senior executive team coach, I can attest to the extraordinary business results of senior leadership teams that operate with high performance and the sustained positive impact that ripples throughout the whole company as a result of this.

From my experience, I believe there are 7 keys for winning teams.

  • An effective leader that embodies competence, trustworthiness and compassion.
  • A clear common strategy and purpose that is created, developed and owned by the whole team. Ingrained in everything you do.
  • An agreed common culture of high performance.
  • An environment of trust, compassion and accountability to each other, the collective goals, the purpose of the team and the high performing behaviours.
  • Complimentary skills and with that understanding placing key people in key areas.
  • Adapting, learning quickly, healthy challenge and collaborating. Continuous learning.
  • Conversational turn taking

Organisations are made up of complex teams, and the teams are made up of complex individuals. The ideal team size varies from 6 to 10 members. Less than 6 team members is likely to result in less effective decisions due to a lack of diversity, and slower decision making because of a lack of complementary skills.

Research also suggests that the team’s effectiveness starts to diminish if there are more than ten people on it. Sub-teams start to form, encouraging divisive behaviour. Bigger teams also undermine ownership of group decisions, as there isn’t time for everyone to be heard. Get your team size right.

What is the one thing you would do differently in your organisation, your team and your life to become more of an effective leader? The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.


Stephen McDonnell, Intercounty Munster championship winning captain and an organisational top team leadership, performance & team coach, delivered an IMI Advant-edge session on building and sustaining winning teams in UCC Centre for Executive Education, Lapps Quay, Cork. For more on IMI membership, click here.

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