John Maxwell: Create a Winning Team

UPDATED: May 3, 2011
PUBLISHED: May 3, 2011

My lesson for the next two months comes from my book The Qualities of a Team Player. Although the book covers 17 separate qualities, I want to focus on four that really stuck out to me when writing the book. We will tackle the first two this month and will finish up the other two next month. Note: These qualities are in no particular order, so get out a highlighter and let’s get started!

Quality No. 1Enlarging: Adding value to teammates is invaluable.

Rabbi Harold Kushner said, “The purpose of life is not to win. The purpose of life is to grow and to share. When you come to look back on all that you have done in life, you will get more satisfaction from the pleasure you have brought to other people’s lives than you will from the times that you outdid and defeated them.”

When I was younger, I played a lot of sports and loved the thrill that came with competing against other players to see who would come out the victor. Today, my desire isn’t so much to compete against people (golf being my lone exception); it’s to complete people. A team player who completes people is an enlarging type of team player. These are the kind of people who, when you are in their presence, make you better than you really are. Bill Russell, Hall of Fame center for the Boston Celtics, said it so well: “The most important measure of how good a game I played was how much better I made my teammates play.”

On the flipside, do you know someone on your team who has the ability to make you feel smaller when you are around them? There are subtracters and those who are multipliers. Subtracters suck the life and energy out of a room the moment they arrive. Multipliers are those that enlarge you. When you see them coming down the hall there is almost a sense of anticipation because they make you better when they are around you.

Let’s take a look at some characteristics of the enlarging type of people. First, enlargers value their teammates. They have the ability to see their teammates in the best light. This is so important because I believe our level of performance equals the level of value placed on us. Investment pioneer Charles Schwab observed, “I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.”

Second, enlargers know and relate to what their teammates value. When relating to a fellow team player, I want answers to fi ve questions. Let me give these to you:

1. What are their dreams?

2. What are their values?

3. What are their skills?

4. What is their attitude?

5. What are the questions of their life?

If you can find the pathway to a person’s questions, you can always find the pathway to a person’s heart.

Enlargers also add value to their teammates. In other words, they approach everything they do with a win-win, never a win-lose attitude.

And finally, enlargers make themselves more valuable. You cannot give what you do not have. Self-improvement precedes team improvement. When someone says, “I really want to help the team,” the first thing I say is, “Improve yourself.” The constant self-improvement not only increases your skill level but makes you more valuable to the team.

I’ve been teaching leadership for a long time and have written several books on the topic. Here’s what I know: The only way you keep leading is to keep growing. The day you stop growing is the day you need to hand the leadership baton to someone else.

To enlarge others:

• Believe in others before they believe in you.

• Serve others before they serve you.

• Add value to others before they add value to you.

Quality No. 2—Committed: There are no halfhearted champions.

A team player has the ability to commit to a cause. William H. Murray said it wonderfully: “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would come his way.”

I think many people tend to associate commitment with their emotions. If they feel the right way, then they can follow through on their commitments. But true commitment doesn’t work that way. It’s not an emotion; it’s a character quality that enables us to reach our goals. Human emotions go up and down all the time, but commitment has to be rock solid. If you want a solid team—whether it’s a business, ball club, marriage or volunteer organization—you must have players who are solidly committed to the team.

There are some things every team player needs to know about being committed.

Commitment is usually discovered in the midst of adversity. You will never know the commitment of a team player until things go bad. The great Vince Lombardi once said, “The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.”

And I have found that commitment and talent are not connected. There is no guarantee that if you find someone who is talented they will have a high level of commitment, and vice versa. Basil Walsh said, “We don’t need more strength or more ability or greater opportunity. What we need to use is what we have.”

So commitment comes as a result of choice, not conditions. When it comes right down to it, commitment is always a matter of choice. In Choices, Frederic F. Flach writes, “Most people look back over the years and identify a time and place at which their lives changed significantly. Whether by accident or design, these are the moments when, because of readiness within us and a collaboration with events occurring around us, we are forced to seriously reappraise ourselves and the conditions under which we live and to make certain choices that will affect the rest of our lives.”

Commitment lasts when it is based on values. Any time you make choices based on solid life values, then you are in a better position to sustain your level of commitment, because you don’t have to continually re-evaluate its importance.

To improve your level of commitment, you need to do three things. First, tie your commitments to your values. Second, take a risk. George Halas, Hall of Fame coach of the Chicago Bears, was right when he said, “Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it.” And last, evaluate your teammates’ commitment. You cannot make a commitment to uncommitted people and expect to receive commitment from them.