Captain, my Captain

“The easiest way to lead, it turns out, is to serve.”

“It’s the notion that the most crucial ingredient in a team that achieves and sustains historic greatness is the character of the player who leads it.”

[Sam Walker, The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams]

For those who do not know me well, I am a bit of a sports fanatic. Many a posting on this sight has been inspired by sports legends – coaches and players alike whose leadership drove their team to unimaginable heights. Although it’s a bit cliché these days, I’ve always loved the sports analogies – largely because their notoriety helps us relate to the principles we see them embody.

When it comes to NFL football, I am a die hard New Orleans Saints fan. Having been born in Louisiana, it’s a birth right to be one (or better put an expectation). Who Dat Nation! In good times and bad! Whether its suffering through seasons where fans wore paper bags over their heads with cut out eyes, or celebrating our first Super Bowl victory in 2010, once a Saints fan, always a Saints fan.

Lately, we’ve had more celebrations than frustrations. That’s largely because in 2006 the Saints took a gamble on a quarterback that redefined the team and brought both success and a Super Bowl championship to a city once broken in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And along the way, Saints fans have been witness to potentially one of the greatest quarterbacks of all times – Drew Brees.

But what defines Drew Brees is not only the quality of his play or the stats he has amassed, it’s the character of his leadership as their captain…the heart and soul of the team. A talented player no doubt, but his leadership on and off the field make the difference.

This past weekend I flew to New Orleans to watch the Saints game vs. Los Angeles Rams. There I was, sitting in the stands with 78,000 of my closest friends, screaming at the top of our lungs as the Saints battled the nations #1 team and came away with a hard fought victory.

Yes, the win was sweet, but what struck me was the way Drew helped lead the team to that victory. It was both through his own efforts and his leadership with the team. It was the little things he did, like squatting lower than the other players in the huddle so he could look up to them when calling plays. It was the way he ran down the field to hug his receivers when they caught a pass or scored a touchdown. It was how he walked up and down the sidelines slapping backs and thanking his fellow teammates even when they didn’t score.

That’s how a player/captain leads his team to victory. Not on his or her own back, but by showing the rest of the team how they, too, can carry each other. It’s a selfless approach to leadership, knowing what is expected of you all while helping others achieve the same.

Recently there was a book written by Sam Walker (editor for the Wall Street Journal) that covered this very topic. In this book, Sam researched hundreds of historically great sports teams and chose 16 of the most successful. He noted that their success is due in large part to a team player who acted more as a “captain” than a hero, and in doing so, created the environment that lead to greatness. In his book – “The Captain Class”, he surmises there are seven traits these “captains” all share:

• They are extremely resilient.
• They play to the limits of the rules.
• They do thankless jobs.
• They communicate clearly with all members of their team.
• They motivate through nonverbal displays.
• They have strong convictions and aren’t afraid to be different.
• They have total control of their emotions.

It’s not that these teams had great players, they also had great leadership ON THE FIELD. They had leaders who were just as interested in the collective success of the team as they were in their own.

Leadership in our personal and business lives is no different. Even the best company can’t be successful if their team members are only out for themselves. It takes a special chemistry to make it work. We call it culture. And it takes hard work to build. But in every case – IN EVERY CASE – those companies have team members who take it upon themselves to set the pace, to lead by example, to work toward the common good, and to make sure that success is measured as a collective goal.

So, will you be my captain?

PS – a “Thank you” to Michelle Wren for referring this article/book to me to review. Love it!!!

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