When you think of a great team player, what image comes to mind?
Is it the tireless workaholic who grinds out long hours alone in their office?
Is it the award-winning perfectionist, whose office is lined with trophies and certificates of achievement?
Well, in his 2016 talk at the Global Leadership Summit, Patrick Lencioni painted a very different picture.
In his talk, The Ideal Team Player, Lencioni used three vital descriptors to show what a fantastic team player looks like:
- Humble: more interested in others than self.
- Hungry: willing to do what is necessary to get things done.
- Smart: people-smart and able to adapt their behavior as needed.
As Lencioni described such a leader, I thought back to a chance encounter I had experienced years earlier with someone who perfectly embodied these characteristics.
His name was Bob Ackles, a professional football executive who had helped to build the Dallas Cowboys dynasty of the 1990s. But for many, Ackles would always be known by his nickname, “The Water Boy,” a moniker he picked up in reference to his first role in pro football—that of the person tasked with carrying water bottles for the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League.
On the day I met him, he had returned to Canada from his stint in the National Football League and was now serving as president of the team for which he used to carry water bottles. And a key reason for his success was that he built teams that shared his own values of being humble, of being hungry, and of being smart.
Later I would note that if I were to look for these Bob Ackles-type of leaders, these would be the indicators I would look for:
- They are “thanking machines.” Gratitude oozes from them.
- They carry no sense of entitlement.
- They are driven by “team success.”
- They are not workaholics, but they stay until the job is done.
- They understand people. They know how to work with and through people.
- They understand systems. They figure out how things work, and they work this to accomplishing their goals.
When you’re building a team, pay attention to resumes and lists of accomplishments. But as Lencioni reminded us, look beyond these and search for evidence of someone who is humble, hungry and smart.
As I learned from a pro football executive, it’s how championship teams are built.