John Maxwell: The Miracle of Teamwork

UPDATED: June 6, 2008
PUBLISHED: June 6, 2008

More than 27 years ago, a team of American college hockey players overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to beat the heavily favored Soviet team—and soon thereafter—win the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

“It may just be the single most indelible moment in all of U.S. sports history,” Sports Illustrated wrote of the team’s gold medal run. “One that sent an entire nation into a frenzy.”

Another team that sent the country—or at least the part of the country that enjoys professional basketball—into a frenzy was the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Led by the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, this team posted the best regular season NBA record of all time (72-10) and went on to defeat the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1996 NBA Finals.

The 1980 U.S. hockey team and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls were quite dissimilar. One was made up of little-known amateurs; the other of superstar professionals. One was a significant underdog; the other was a dominant force all year. Despite these and other differences, however, both could easily show up on a list of the greatest sports teams in American history.

The way these two groups of players melded together to reach their goals is inspiring, especially for people who value teamwork as much as I do. Individually, none of them—even the immensely talented Michael Jordan—could have accomplished what they did together. They needed each other to succeed.

As obvious as it seems to me now, I didn’t fully grasp the importance of teamwork until I was 40 years old. When I began to evaluate the first half of my life, I got discouraged because I realized I had not achieved what I wanted to accomplish thus far. I was disciplined, I worked hard, and I thought I was helping people. But something was missing.

Eventually, I realized what that something was. Although I had concentrated on developing myself, I had not focused enough on building a great team. That, I concluded, was a major mistake— one that had kept me from reaching my full potential.

At 40, I realized that my success wasn’t going to be determined by my gifts, my abilities or my opportunities. It was going to be determined by whether I could develop a great team. This realization was so life-changing that it birthed one of my 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership—the “Law of the Inner Circle”—which says those closest to you determine the level of your success. Ever since, developing my team has been my No. 1 priority. Even today—more than 16 years later—I devote more energy, more time and more resources to growing my inner circle than to anything else.

The results are well worth the effort because of what my team does for me.

1. My team makes me better than I am.

If the members of my team were here, they’d tell you the same thing.

2. My team multiplies my value to others.

These people don’t add to my worth when it comes to contributing to others; they multiply it greatly.

3. My team enables me to do what I do best.

Because the members of my inner circle complement me and do things I don’t do well, I am able to focus on the things that I can do well.

4. My team allows me to help others do their best.

Having a team allows me to move people around until they’re in what I call their “sweet spot” or “strength zone”—the place where talent meets passion, resulting in fulfillment and excellence.

5. My team gives me more time.

Without this group of trusted colleagues, I’d have to do everything by myself—or at least keep a close eye on it all. With a great team, others can shoulder key responsibilities, freeing me to concentrate on my top priorities.

6. My team provides me with companionship.

I’m happy to say that some of my best friends are my team players.

7. My team helps me fulfill the desires of my heart.

Not only that, but they help me fulfill them in a way that often far exceeds my expectations.

8. My team compounds my vision and my effort.

When you’re surrounded by a great group of people, the well-known saying for T-E-A-M really proves true: Together Everyone Achieves More.

The best part is that these benefits don’t just apply to me. A great team can do all this for any leader who, as I did at age 40, stops trying to be a one-person show. As Andrew Carnegie said, “It marks a big step in your development when you come to realize that other people can help you do a better job than you can do alone.”


Used by permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell’s free monthly e-newsletter Leadership Wired.