Saturday, April 5, 2008


I played football in high school. I am always amazed at how much I learned about life and being a member of a team from playing football. I was not a star on the team. More like, as my coach said--I was hamburger for the good players to use and abuse in practice to get ready for the games. I knew my place, I knew my mission and I did it as well as I could so that the team was successful. And for the two years I played varsity, the team went 17-0-1. I did my part, everyone else on the team did their parts and we were successful. We were well coached.

Leaders need to know the members of their teams. We have to learn to make the team successful by maximizing individual strengths and using others to fill in the weaknesses. Everyone can contribute--but they need to know their place and how they are going to contribute. Some will be the stars and be in front doing the high pressure presentations. Others will be in the background--the hamburger, getting what the presenters need to "win one" for the team.

On a sports team, players have different positions; similarly on work teams people fill different positions. The job of the leader (coach) is to put the right players in the positions where they can have the greatest impact for the entire team. Not everyone may be playing in their best position if there is a lack of talent in a particular area. But it is still up to the leader to maximize everyone's talent for the good of the team.

How do you maximize talent? Tear down and remind everyone how many shortcomings they have? Or build up and encourage them by reminding them that everyone makes mistakes, but no single person causes failure. If it is a team sport--everyone plays a part. But everyone working to their potential is a surer means to success than minimizing the abilities of the less talented. There is a place for everyone. And once the team is comfortable working together, begin to encourage everyone to increase their skills and, therefore, value to the team.

Let me give an example. How well would someone continue to be motivated for a team if the leader came to someone who is definitely giving 100 percent for the team and is one of the stalwarts on the team and encouraged them by saying: "You're really not that talented, if you want an assessment why don't you send a tape of your play to some scouts and see what they say?" Sounds like the leader has a bigger issues to deal with and is intent on driving someone they consider a threat away. And who loses? Everyone! The team member, the other members of the team, and even the leader. The team member knew, "I never had any aspirations of playing at the next level, I was happy to do what I could do right here with this team and these people." sometimes it is more about who you are with than clawing to the next level--whatever that is. And the obvious personal assessment of an exchange like this? I'm not valued--maybe it's time to move on.

Leaders have to get over their own frustrations (and pride) of being where they are versus where they want to be. The team you have is the team you have. Work with it or go somewhere else. Encouragement is critical. How many Cinderella teams with definitely less talent have shown superior talented teams that a close-nit, well-coached team can overcome the odds and win? I think the last Super Bowl is a good example. It is the same in all of the teams we are members of. A close, motivated, well-led team will almost always succeed.

Great leaders encourage their teams to success and facilitate developing close relationships between the members. Key word--encourage!

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