Strong Captains Created the Best Team Dynasties in Sports

What blogger worth his or her salt would pass up an opportunity to get a Super Bowl tie in? And I found a great one: surprisingly, it turns out having a great captain in a team is the most important factor in creating amazing sports teams — more important than star players or even coaches.

The captain on a sports team is kind of like a tech lead in an engineering team:

Not only must captains be competent in their playing, they need to inspire confidence in their players, evaluate the game plan and change it if circumstances dictate. They need to handle pressure well, make tactical decisions and communicate effectively with the referee as well as the team.

the-captain-class-sam-walker-3d-cover1-721x1024In last year’s The Captain Class, Sam Walker (sports editor at the Wall Street Journal) identified a list of 16 hugely successful teams across different sports. What he found was that it was usually due to the strength of the team captain, even as star players came and went.

He further broke down common traits into seven and drew some counter-intuitive conclusions:

  1. They took care of tough, unglamorous tasks
  2. Broke the rules — for a purpose
  3. They communicated practically, not in grand speeches
  4. They knew how to use deeds to motivate
  5. They were independent thinkers, unafraid to dissent
  6. Relentless
  7. Possessed remarkable emotional self-control

Engineering leadership is a bit different than sports, so personally I would emphasize numbers 1, 3, 5, and 6 as follows:

  1. Stay in the grind: effectiveness comes first from nailing all the little details, mastering the basics, the 5:00 a.m. runs when nobody is watching
  2. Stay tighly in touch: the most effective communication comes from staying very close to people, listening closely to their whole person (not just the facts). This is why Slack sucks.
  3. Be purpose driven. Sure you work in a team in a broader structure and context but if you don’t have a purpose or vision, what is there for anyone to follow?
  4. Grind it out. Seize every opportunity to do the best — every story, every feature, every bug, every, every, every.

Enjoy the game!!

Photo by JC Gellidon on Unsplash

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