Paul L. Caron

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Seven Leadership Secrets Of Great Team Captains

Wall Street Journal op-ed: The Seven Leadership Secrets of Great Team Captains, by Sam Walker (author, The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams (2018)):

Captain ClassLet’s imagine that Dr. Frankenstein gave you the keys to his laboratory and that it was your mission to build the perfect captain for a sports team. Maybe you would start with the donor body of a freak talent—a superstar with transcendent skills and abundant charisma. You’d then probably want to inject qualities such as eloquence, diplomacy, institutional fealty and dedication to the highest principles of sportsmanship.

Conventional wisdom suggests that these are the key traits of a superior captain. But are they really?

Some years ago, I set out to identify the greatest teams in sports history across the world, from the National Basketball Association to international field hockey, and to see what, if anything, they had in common. In the end, only 16 unambiguously outstanding teams made the cut. The list included several teams that were familiar to me and some that weren’t.

They all had just one shared characteristic: Their long streaks of dominance either began or ended—and in many cases overlapped precisely—with the tenure of one player. And in every case, this player was, or eventually became, the captain.

The men and women who led these teams were surprisingly similar to one another, but their skills, personalities and leadership styles were not at all what I expected. The qualities they shared were not the ones I would have installed in Frankenstein’s laboratory. Some, in fact, were traits I would have rejected.

It occurred to me that in sports—and perhaps in other fields where teamwork matters, from business, politics and the military to science and the arts—we’ve been choosing the wrong people to lead us. The captains whom I identified had seven traits in common:

  1. They Took Care of Tough, Unglamorous Tasks (Hilderaldo Bellini, Soccer, Brazil) ...
  2. They Broke the Rules—For a Purpose (Mireya Luis) (Volleyball, Cuba) ...
  3. They Communicated Practically, Not in Grand Speeches (Yogi Berra) (Baseball, US) ...
  4. They Knew How to Use Deeds to Motivate (Jack Lambert) (Football, US) ...
  5. They Were Independent Thinkers, Unafraid to Dissent (Valeri Vasiliev) (Hockey, USSR) ...
  6. They Were Relentless (Bill Russell) (Basketball, US) ...
  7. They Possessed Remarkable Emotional Self-Control (Jérôme Fernandez) (Handball, France) ...

What stands out most about these captains is that they were not abundantly talented, charismatic or cocksure. They were not the kinds of people who would give dazzling job interviews.

They helped their teams to become dynasties by behaving a certain way, by making the right choices on the job—every hour, every day. They were dedicated to doing whatever it took to make success more likely, even if their efforts were unpopular, controversial or completely invisible. They were in it not for personal glory but for the greater good of the team.

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Other Captain Class leadership columns:

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