5 Leadership Roles To Get Your Team Walking Through Brick Walls

“Wow, they would walk through a brick wall for that guy!”

I’ve heard this sentence a few times in my career, spoken about great leaders I have known and respected.  I’ve even uttered it myself on a couple of occasions.  It’s one of the highest complements a leader can get, because of its underlying connotation – that person is an uppercase LEADER.   There’s no question of the cohesiveness and esprit de corps of the team.  Their loyalty is on their sleeves.

They trust that their leader will do right by them, always – that translates to results, and ultimately, greatness.   And perhaps even some gaping holes in a few brick walls.

How can you get to that place with YOUR team?

I’ve observed 5 critical roles that a leader must play to get their teams “walking through brick walls” for them.

  • The Counselor –  Not every day is going to be a good one, and not everything is going to go the right way.  The team needs a way to relieve the pressure brought on by these ups and downs – but it can’t happen in public.  That’s where the leader comes in behind the scenes, making themselves available to their team when the chips are down, letting the steam come off honestly through active listening, and then offering quiet and steady encouragement.
  • The Defender – When the leader is in public, and the arrows fly about the team’s performance, the leader takes the hit  – or, if the critique is unjustified, the leader passionately defends the team’s honor.   The blame is never on the team – it’s on the leader. Conversely, when things go well, the praise is always on them (Think Jim Collins and his concept of the Level 5 leader in his book “Good to Great”).
  • The Contextualizer –  Great teams always know the “why” behind every strategy, tactic, and process – and it’s up to the leader to deliver that critical context, as the decisions are being made, and with as much candor and transparency as possible.
  • The Fair Dealer – It’s all about consistency in how praise and rewards are given, and discipline and terminations are delivered.  There are no playing favorites, and no dog houses. The great leaders use the full spectrum of accountability, and never fail to set the proper expectations.
  • The Cheerleader – This is where I call “leadership relentlessness” comes in.   The mountain is never too high.   The wall is never too thick.   There’s no “can’t” in anyone’s vocabulary.  The team WILL prevail.    There is a cause worth pursuing with vigor and passion.  And it all must be delivered with a measured positivity that instead of oozing hubris or folly, passes on a quiet confidence and determination.

If you can take on these roles, and be there for your your team in these important ways, the rewards will be great.  It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Sun Tzu:

“Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.”

Lead well!

(Photo by Bigstock)


  1. says

    I’m good with #1 through #4, but need to push back on #5. In my experience, the “relentless cheerleader” is going to be met with a collective rolling of the eyes. A leader who lays out a path to success, with a clear-eyed understanding of the risks involved, will meet the credibility test.

  2. says

    Hi Brian, thanks for your comment – I understand your point on #5; there’s a fine line there between effective encouragement and pure folly. It’s a line that still must be approached, in my view, because the benefits outweigh the risks. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts here, and all the best!


  3. says

    I like your list. The biggest mistake I’ve seen leaders make is in regards to being Fair. A great leader will keep things fair. BUT, they will still do for one what they wish they could do for all. It’s a mistake to believe “if I to this for you, I have to do this for everyone.” If your team is mature, they understand limited resources. As long as you aren’t playing favorites, it’s okay to be “unfair” from time to time. It’s okay to give a team member a new computer monitor if it’s not in the budget if it will truly make their job easier. Everyone might want one, but you can’t afford to give everyone a new monitor. But you do for one what you wish you could do for all. It’s not performance based. It has no strings attached. It’s something he needs that you know about that happens to be achievable for you. My team knows we operate on this philosophy. It builds them up and has never caused a problem.

  4. says

    Hi Eric, thanks so much for your comment, and your excellent points about leadership fairness. I agree with you, it’s more a matter of not playing favorites than doing seemingly “unfair” things.
    All the best!

  5. says

    The “Defender” is a good class that I haven’t thought too much about. We need to see more leaders stick behind the folks that are in the trenches for their behalf and those of us who do lead, need to be sure to implement this one… heck I need to brush up on all of them and that’s why I love stopping by this blog.

    Hope all is well, Terry.

  6. says

    Hi Jacob, I’m doing great! I look at it this way- If I watch my team’s back (i.e. the Defender role), they will watch mine. That can forge a virtually unbreakable, and quite powerful, bond.
    And thanks for the kind words; I’m so glad what I write is helpful.

    All the best,

  7. says

    I particularly like The Contextualizer. Adults need to know the “why” (children too for that matter). When the context becomes clear, amazing things can occur with a team.

  8. says

    Excellent article! Too many young leaders look at their role only on one or two levels. You spell out the different “hats” that are many times required they wear. Thank you for your work here.


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