Are You Building a Great Team…Or a Collection of Great Individuals?

by Rick Houcek

When the U.S. Olympic basketball team won the bronze medal—not the cherished “gold”—in the Athens 2004 Olympics, the world was mystified. The team was comprised of a virtual Hall of Fame of NBA superstars—competing against no-names and far-lesser-talents from other countries, most of whom never had a prayer of playing in the NBA.

The U.S. team was considered a lock for the gold. Because of the assumed mismatch, some pundits even thought the games were a joke and the U.S. should just be awarded the gold without embarrassing other countries.

So why did we lose and embarrass ourselves?

It was no mystery to John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach. “We sent great players. They sent great teams,” he opines in his exceptional book, “Wooden on Leadership”. Wooden’s credentials on teambuilding are unquestioned. Still today, he owns the record for the most national championships in college basketball by a wide margin.

Hmmm. Is Wooden suggesting great teams beat great players? Oh, much more than that. He goes on to say: “A leader must accomplish the difficult task of getting those on the team to believe that ‘we’ supersedes ‘me’. This is only possible if the leader himself thinks this way.”

Tommy Lasorda, Hall of Fame manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers, puts it this way: “The manager’s job is to get the players to play for the name of the front of their jersey, not the name on the back.”

Ouch! That’s a dagger in the heart of those ego-driven souls who are only in it for self glory.

Lesson & Actions For You:
Egos aren’t unique only to sports. Everybody has one; we’re born with it. And frankly, “ego drive” is a key must-have ingredient for success in any endeavor. The problem arises when it gets out of hand, like when an employee ignores the “best interests of the whole”—the company, the department, the customers, shareholders, other constituents—and his decisions and behaviors become “all about me.” At that point, trouble looms ahead. You may have on your hands a self-centered, self-aggrandizing, self-promoting lone wolf. Be alert—they are not always loud and obvious about it, sometimes they are quiet and unassuming. More passive-aggressive.

Worse, when that employee is a superstar performer, many leaders allow him or her to get away with it. They say nothing, do nothing. Tragic leader mistake.

That individual can topple your empire if you’re not careful. How? At minimum, three bad outcomes: One, company morale can tank. Two, other high achievers may become disgruntled enough to leave. And three, your leadership ability will be called into question. And don’t be naive and think, “Hey, if there’s a problem, someone will come forward and tell me.” Highly unlikely. Most people quietly stew about this, believing you, as leader, already know it. Others are scared of your title, position, and authority, and wouldn’t approach you on anything. You’re largely on your own.

Take action! Here are three steps to consider: One, talk “team” at every opportunity, in company meetings, speeches, social events, and one-on-ones, also in memos, reports, and newsletters. Two, make sure you have rewards and recognition systems in place to acknowledge teams, task forces, work groups, and the company as a whole, anywhere the efforts of more than one individual combined for a successful outcome. If you already have some, add more.

P.S. Here’s a third action step: You can’t run away from having tough, face-to-face talks with offenders to get it on the table, gain acknowledgement, and establish buy-in to a new plan of behavior and action. Got anyone who needs that talk today?

About the Author
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ATTENTION ENTREPRENEURS AND CEOs: Rick Houcek facilitates off-site strategic planning retreats, helping CEOs and Leadership Teams create high-impact plans that overcome the crippling effects of lousy execution (the single biggest cause of plan failure)—and get successfully implemented! His dynamic Power Planning™ strategic process drives action through his Escape-Proof Accountability™ system. It’s ideal for small and mid-size businesses. To bring this potent weapon to your team, contact Rick by phone, fax, or e-mail. Visit his web site at


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