John Maxwell: Learn to Play Nice

UPDATED: May 25, 2023
PUBLISHED: November 1, 2012

Let’s continue our conversation from last month, based on lessons from my book The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player. I’m focusing on four qualities that had a profound effect on me when writing the book. Before we go any further, let’s review the first two qualities we talked about last month.


Quality No. 1: Enlarging—

Adding value to teammates is invaluable.


Quality No. 2: Committed—

There are no half-hearted champions. 

Team players are enlargers, meaning they have the ability to see their teammates in the best light and make those around them better. Next, whether it’s in sports, business or marriage, you must have team players who are solidly committed to the team.


Ready to move on? Get out your highlighter and let’s get started.

Quality No. 3—Collaborative:

Working together means winning together.


The 1963 movie The Great Escape was a classic case study on collaborating as a team. The film was based on a true story that took place during World War II at Stalag Luft III, a Nazi prisoner of war camp that once held as many as 10,000 Allied POWs. Within that camp in 1944 was a group of determined prisoners itching to escape. The goal was bold and audacious: to facilitate the escape of no fewer than 250 men in one night. No small task indeed. In fact, it would require the utmost cooperation amongst the soldiers to escape the camp.


Getting men out of a Nazi prison camp was a complex task. First, there was the challenge of digging and hiding the tunnels that would provide the means of escape. Together, prisoners engineered the tunnels, dug them, shored them up with wooden slats taken from their beds and disposed of the dirt in amazingly creative ways. They pumped air into the tunnels with homemade bellows. They created tracks and trolleys to move through the tunnels. They even wired the narrow passages with electric lights.


The list of supplies needed for the job was unbelievable: 4,000 bed slats, 1,370 battens, 1,699 blankets, 52 long tables, 1,219 knives, 30 shovels, 600 feet of rope, 1,000 feet of electric wire and more. It took an array of prisoners just to fi nd and steal all the material for the tunnels.


However difficult was the building of the tunnels, creating the means of escape was only part of the whole project. Every man who would attempt escape needed a host of supplies and equipment, including civilian clothes, German papers and identity cards, maps, homemade compasses, emergency rations and other items. Several prisoners continually scrounged for anything that might aid the team.


Others worked systematically and relentlessly bribing and blackmailing the guards.


Each person had a job. There were tailors, blacksmiths, pickpockets and forgers, all who worked secretly month after month. The prisoners even developed teams of men who specialized in distraction and camouflage, keeping the German soldiers off guard.


John Sturges, the director of The Great Escape, said, “It demanded the concentrated devotion and vigilance of more than 600 men, every single one of them, every minute, every hour, every day and every night for more than one year. Never has the human capacity been stretched to such incredible lengths or shown with such determination and such courage.”


These prisoners knew the difference between cooperation (working together agreeably) and collaboration (working together aggressively). Don’t you know people on your team who are always nice, cooperative and agree to almost everything being said by other team members? That’s not the kind of team player you want.


You want team members—like those prisoners—who are not afraid of conflict and who will work aggressively together with others. You want people who will take responsibility for coming up with ideas and plans of how to best move the team forward.


You must make four changes to become a collaborative player:

Perception—See teammates as collaborators, not competitors. Completing one another is more important than competing with one another.

Attitude—Be supportive not suspicious of teammates. If you trust others, you will treat

them better.

Focus—Concentrate on the team, not yourself. Cavett Robert said, “True progress in any field is a relay race and not a single event.”

Results—Create victories through multiplication. In my book The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, the first law I talk about is The Law of Significance, which means one is too small a number to produce greatness. It takes a team to make it happen. Collaborative team players think win-win-win. You win, your teammates win, the team wins.


Quality No. 4—Discipline:

Where there’s a will, there’s a win.


H.P Liddon said, “What we do on some great occasion will probably depend on what we already are; and what we are will be the result of previous years of self-discipline.” Simply put, discipline is doing what you really don’t want to do so you can do what you really want to do. The areas we need to be disciplined in are the areas we don’t like. That’s human nature. There are three areas of continued development.


Disciplined Thinking—Playwright George Bernard Shaw remarked, “Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.”


Disciplined Emotions—We have two choices when it comes to our emotions: We can master them, or they can master us. I was playing golf the other day at East Lake Country Club in Atlanta. It’s known for being the course where Bobby Jones played, and if you are a golf fan like me, you know Jones not only is considered one of the greatest golfers of all time, but he was also a fi rst-class gentleman. Few know that when he was a young man he had quite the temper.


One of my favorite Bobby Jones stories comes from his uncle Bart, who said to the young Bobby, “Your problem is you’ve mastered the game of golf, but you haven’t mastered your emotions. And until you master your emotions, you’ll never be a champion in golf.”


Disciplined Action—Albert Hubert said, “Parties who want milk should not seat themselves on a stool in the middle of the field and hope that the cow will back up to them.”


We must take action when faced with tasks we don’t like. Thomas Huxley remarked, “Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned, and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns.”


Enlarging, committed, collaborative and disciplined—four qualities that every team member must have. It is my hope that you will be able to build these kinds of teams within your organization.



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