John Maxwell: Succeeding Together

UPDATED: January 12, 2011
PUBLISHED: January 12, 2011

George Allen, former coach of the Washington Redskins, once said, “Only winners are truly alive. Winning is living. Every time you win, you’re reborn. When you lose, you die a little.” How true that is. It’s wonderful to see the sense of accomplishment that comes from winning. But, winning is not an automatic process. If you win, you do it on purpose. And more importantly, you do it as a team. Here are five core values of a winning team.  


No team has ever achieved extraordinary results without a 100 percent commitment to the cause and a common vision where everyone is pulling in the same direction. To have full commitment, a team must understand the vision, contribute to it, own it and, eventually, pass it on. The team that is committed to a common cause will display unwavering loyalty. Loyalty must be earned but not fought for. Earning doesn’t mean “proving,” but living up to the positive attributes that have been ascribed to you. General Colin Powell defines loyalty this way: “When we are debating an issue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I’ll like it or not. Disagreement, at this stage, stimulates me. But once a decision has been made, the debate ends. From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own.”  


If our team is going to succeed, we each must contribute our all. To use a sports analogy, it’s impossible to drop the ball if you make sure you never have the ball. Some players go out of their way to make sure they don’t have the ball so they can’t be blamed if their team doesn’t win the game. Then there are players like Joe Namath. Namath wanted the ball. In fact, he was so confident his underdog New York Jets team would beat the highly favored Baltimore Colts in the 1969 Super Bowl, he told reporters days leading up to the game the Jets were going to win. Sure enough, Namath led his team to a stunning upset and is now part of NFL legend. He said years later, “If you aren’t going all the way, why go at all?” Be committed to making a meaningful contribution to your team.


Winning teams have competent players. The Law of the Chain from my book The 17 Irrefutable Laws of Teamwork states that the strength of a team is impacted by its weakest link. And that weakest link is always going to determine the load the team is able to carry. Lou Holtz told me over lunch some time ago that if you have a bad coach and bad players, you most definitely are going to have a bad team. If you have a bad coach and good players, you’ll have a fair team. But to have a good team you need a good coach and good players. That weak link—whether it’s the coach or the players—will always keep you from reaching your potential. The weak link player affects the team three ways:

Loss of Opportunity—Opportunity can never be discovered when you have a weak player on a team. The energy expended while trying to cover for a weak player is energy that is taken away from finding opportunities. Loss of Morale—Every person on the team knows who the weaker person is. Resentment can set in because other team members know the team is being held back from what it could become because of this weak player. Loss of Productivity—This is a given. You’ll never be as productive with that weaker team member as you would be if that player were not there.

It’s not that the weaker player doesn’t have a role on the team. It’s highly possible that your weak player is simply in the wrong position. Countless NBA players have been drafted as the next great point guard but for some reason didn’t get the job done. They either had too many turnovers or were not making their teammates better by getting them the ball where they needed it. But they flourished as soon as they were moved to a shooting or off guard position. They weren’t bad players; they were just playing out of position.


John W. Gardner said, “If one had to name a single, all-purpose instrument of leadership, it would be communication.” To help your team operate at its maximum potential, communication must be: •    Candid. Communication must be open and honest. It’s healthy and fosters trust; everyone knows where everyone else stands. No hidden agendas, scorekeeping or secrets. •    Direct. Don’t beat around the bush; just say it. Healthy people respect and appreciate directness that is given with their best interest at heart. •    Rapid. Fast is the key idea! Don’t sit on communication items; get them out as soon as possible. •    Inclusive. The old adage is true: Knowledge is power. There are occasions in which discretion is essential, but a leader’s overall priority is to empower, not imprison, the team. •    Consistent. Avoid the communication yo-yo that is often the result of knee-jerk reaction to poor communication.


Longfellow once said, “All your strength is in union. All your danger is in discord.” Cooperation assumes a certain level of maturity and a commitment to understanding. Cooperation requires trust. Without full trust, little can be accomplished. Trust (like loyalty) must be extended up front 100 percent and then earned over a lifetime. Respect is also essential for cooperation. Respect is related to trust, but where trust deals more with character, respect deals more with competence. Respect is earned when an individual has a track record of growth, demonstrates his contribution to the team and consistently produces results. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” If I go to my team with a me-oriented attitude, I will never be successful. But if I go to them with an others-oriented attitude, it holds a whole different meaning. I’ll end with this wonderful Chinese proverb that states it so well: If you want happiness for an hour—take a nap. If you want happiness for a day—go fishing. If you want happiness for a month—get married. If you want happiness for a year—inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime—help others.