Good Leaders Don’t Forget The “I” in Team

Have you seen the commercials for the latest movies out on DVD? I would highly recommend McFarland, USA. It’s a sports movie based on a true story and features a group of kids who fall outside the mainstream, a coach with issues, some long odds, and—well, not to give away the ending, but they manage to surprise a lot of people, including themselves.

Good Leaders Don't Forget The "I" in Team

In this case, the coach (played by Kevin Costner) is a fired high school football coach and PE teacher who finds a job in an impoverished area of central California, where most of his students are from families of impoverished agricultural workers.

The boys work in the fields along with their families, and lacking other transportation they run between work and school and home. The coach sees potential for them to form a cross-country running team, even though it’s a sport generally reserved for kids in well funded public and private schools. Did I mention he’s never coached track before.

As Richard Roeper points out in his Chicago Sun-Times review, cross-country is unique in being both an individual and a team sport. There are issues throughout the movie that highlight the interplay between individuals and groups—the team, the families, the community.

Watching it leads me to wonder how good leaders treat those issues in organizations. The old saying may hold true that there’s no “I” in “team,” but of course where human egos are involved there’s always an “I.”

Most, if not all, organizations have a few star players, along with those who are happy in supporting roles. A good team probably needs both. But how best can a leader nurture both sets of strengths?

Look at alignment.

Your star players are likely to be over-achievers and ambitious as individuals. But how closely are their goals aligned with the team’s—and, more broadly, with the organization’s mission?

Close attention to the structure of assignments and areas of responsibility can help to ensure that these standouts are working for the team and the organization, even as they’re furthering their own careers.

On the other hand, the strongest team players may be entirely unfocused when it comes to developing their individual strengths.

They’re likely to prioritize their professional development behind other tasks, maybe feeling that taking work time to hone their skills is unnecessary (and even borderline dishonest if the skills would make them more attractive to other employers). In this case, the charge is to convince them that their continued growth is as important to the team as it is to them as individuals.

In McFarland, USA, the coach had to learn to meet his students where they were to help them find their way personally, and to come together as a team. It’s a balancing act that is also a crucial skill to develop for truly excellent leadership in any field.

{Image Credit: Disney}

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