Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams Book Summary



Have you ever been on a team where everyone is smart, and yet it doesn’t function like a smart team?  There’s a reason for this.  It comes down to mindset.

The leadership philosophy, starting with the mindset, limits or unleashes the potential for high-performance teams.

In Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams: How You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Results, Roger Schwarz reveals how teams and leaders can increase their decision quality, decrease their implementation time, foster more innovation, get commitment, reduce costs, and increase trust within the team.

What I like about Schwarz’ book is that you can see it in action.  The next time you’re in a meeting, see if everybody looks to “the leader” to solve the problem, or if it’s a collaborative melding of the minds in a way that truly reflects the talent in the room.

Lead at a Higher-Level and Create Exceptional Teams

Harnessing the collective talent and experience of the team, is a challenge, because we have in-grained habits and practices that put the burden on the leader to have all the answers.  It often takes a skilled facilitator to help unleash the potential.

In fact, have you ever noticed how a lot of the best leaders, are really effective facilitators?

They ask the right questions to the right people and set the stage for people to bring out their best.

What makes this a unique leadership book is what Schwarz brings to the table.  Scwharz is the bestselling author of The Skilled Facilitator.   In Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams, Schwarz shows us how we can use facilitation skills to lead at a higher-level and create exceptional teams.  Add to that, Schwarz is an organizational psychologist with more than 30 years of experience helping leaders create high-performance teams.

That’s a lot of wisdom and experience bound into a book.

Here is a quick tour of Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams

Chapters at a Glance

  • Chapter 1 How Well Does Your Team Really Work?
  • Chapter 2 How You and Your Team Get Stuck: The Unilateral Control Approach
  • Chapter 3 Getting Unstuck to Get Results: The Mutual Learning Approach
  • Chapter 4 Getting the Puzzle Pieces on the Table: Mutual Learning Behaviors 1-4
  • Chapter 5 Putting the Puzzle Together: Mutual Learning Behaviors 5-8
  • Chapter 6 Designing for Mutual Learning
  • Chapter 7 Dealing with Common Team Challenges
  • Chapter 8 Becoming a Smarter Leader
  • Chapter 9 Becoming a Smarter Team

What’s In it For You?

Here is a sampling of some of the challenges that Smart Leaders Smarter Teams helps you with:

  • How to be a smarter leader
  • How to create smarter, high-performance teams
  • How to design more effective team structures
  • How to make better decisions with a team
  • How to build transparency and trust on teams
  • How to give and get more effective feedback


Here are some of the key features of Smart Leaders Smarter Teams:

  • Conversational writing style.   The book is easy to read because it’s conversational and concise.  The big ideas in the book are broken down into simple, easy to follow sections.
  • Concrete examples.   Schwarz provides a lot of in-line examples to help make his points hit home.  The examples are easy to relate to.
  • Real-world insight.    Schwarz’ experience shines throughout the book.  You can tell he’s been there and done that, and so his information is that much more useful since it’s grounded in practical experience.
  • Visuals.   Schwarz includes several visuals that illustrate the big ideas in the book, in a way that’s easy to see and remember.   The visuals give you mental building blocks to better absorb and apply the information.

Here is a sampling of some of my favorite nuggets from the book …

A Facilitative Approach to Leading

What if every meeting or every leadership opportunity or every teachable moment had the benefits of a skilled facilitator?  Better yet, what if the team was its own best facilitator on a daily basis.

Schwarz writes:

“These leaders realized that, to be effective, they needed many of the same skills that third-party facilitators used in their work.  Although access to a skilled facilitator was a benefit, it was no substitute for having a team that could — in every meeting — use its own skills to work together to greater


The Paradox of Smart Leaders Working as a Less-Smart Team

A common scenario is to have a bunch of smart people, operating at a lower-level than they could be.  Somehow, when a team of smart people gets together, instead of “better together” and synergy, it ends up being the opposite.  Schwarz shares some revealing questions:

  • Do you doubt your team really pulls its collective weight?
  • During your team meetings, do you ever wish you could be elsewhere, or that the faces at the table could be different?
  • When your boss — an executive or your board — asks you what your team is accomplishing toward a strategic goal, do you sometimes think, ‘What can I say that’s both true and upbeat?’
  • Do you suspect some of your team members resent how much time they spend in your meetings/  Do you feel like much of your team meeting time is wasted time?

Schwarz continues with a few more cutting questions that reveal how smart your team is working:

  • How effective is the team you lead at reaching its most important objectives?
  • How agile is your team at recognizing major challenges and deciding what to do about them?
    What results does your team achieve by working together that it’s members couldn’t gain by working independently?
  • How much does the team contribute to your own ability to make the best decisions possible?
  • How accountable do other members of the team really feel to each other for what the team must accomplish?
  • How much do team members enhance one another’s work outside the team?

One Leader in the Room

What’s the fundamental cause of this sub-optimal performance?  According to Schwarz, it’s the idea that people believe there is “one leader in the room”.

Schwarz writes:

“You and your team may be getting along with business and each other, but I can all but guarantee you that you  are all working from a premise that hugely limits your team’s potential.  You didn’t create this problem,

but it’s holding all of you back.  The cause?  The idea, widely help almost as an article of faith, that

there is on leader in the room.”

“… This perception of a leader as the one leader in the room translates into considering that leader solely

responsible for all the leadership of the team: guiding the direction of the meeting, challenging the entire

group’s thinking, and raising concerns about team member’s performance.  This one-leader-in-the-room approach requires the one in the hot seat to be all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-doing, and to guide the whole content and process of the meeting.  It’s as if the team is a boat with one person serving as designer, captain, navigator, and engineer at the same time, and the rest of the crew merely show up and row.”

Mindset is the Problem

It’s our mindset that creates and reinforces the problem.

Schwarz writes:

“What makes me so sure the team you lead falls short of its potential?  The answer has to do with mindset: the set of core values and assumptions from which individuals and groups operate.  It is the way of seeing that shapes every thought, feeling, and behavior.  In even moderately challenging situations, virtually all

leaders tend to use what I call a unilateral control mindset, despite the negative results it generates.”

Unilateral Control Mindset

It’s our perception of control and how we think we need to show up that perpetuates the problem.

Schwarz writes:

“Unilateral control leads to unilateral leadership.  Sometimes it’s blatant, but often it’s subtle.  You think of yourself as the sole leader in your team and that makes your team members followers.  Consequently, you alone become responsible and accountable for the team’s leadership.  This means you guide discussion, challenge team member’s thinking, and deal with issues that arise in the team and between team members.  When members of your team have different points of view, you see yourself as the person who has the information, experience, and expertise to figure out what the team needs to do.”

Mutual Learning Mindset

The way to get unstuck is to use what Schwarz calls a mutual learning mindset.  A mutual learning mindset helps you create a shared leadership environment, where everybody brings out their best.  Schwarz writes:

“When you use a mutual learning mindset, you achieve your goals by learning from and with others.  This means you’re open to being influenced by others at the same time you seek to influence others.  You see each member of your team having a piece of the puzzle.  Your job, along with the other team members, is to jointly put the puzzle together.  You view leadership as power with others, not over others, so you look for ways of sharing it.  With a mutual learning mindset, power is not zero-sum.  If you share power with others, you don’t lose any yourself.”

Your Mindset as an Operating System

You can think of your mindset as an operating system.

Schwarz writes:

“You use your mindset to act and get results.  Your mindset controls the decisions you make, the statements you make, and the questions you ask.  Like any good operating system, your mindset enables you to take action quickly, effortlessly, and skillfully.  It does this by using your core values and assumptions to design your behavior.”

Change Your Mindset, Change Your Results

You can’t just change behaviors.  You need to change the mindsets that shape the behaviors.

Schwarz writes:

“The choice here is between continuing to make changes only in behavior or structure while hoping for significant improvements or to begin to change your mindset and the mindset of your team that generate the behavior and structures.  When you choose the latter, you choose to work on root causes.  By understanding your mindset, you’ll start to understand why you and your team are getting stuck, how you are unintentionally contributing to staying stuck, and how to get unstuck.”

The big take away from the book is that by using facilitation skills, you can be a more effective leader, and build more effective, high-performance teams.

Get the Book

Smart Leaders Smarter Teams: how You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Results, by Roger Schwarz is available on Amazon:

Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams: How You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Results, by Roger Schwarz

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