This is the second post inspired by my interview with Canadian Olympic Women’s Soccer coach John Herdman.  [To read the first post on the characteristics of excellence, click here.] John and I will be among the speakers at the upcoming XL Leadership Summit this February in Vancouver.  John is totally amazing and as sophisticated a leader as I’ve met in any realm. It’s worth your time to soak up all of John’s insights. Listen to the full interview here.

Click here to view the video on YouTube »

In my speech at the XL Leadership summit, I will argue that most people are inspired by excellence and sometimes even envious of it, but they aren’t willing to endure the discomfort it takes to excel.  [Tweet that.]

I asked John for his perspectives on this topic.  He shared some of the sacrifices it takes to perform at that caliber—and how abnormal it makes people who are willing to do it! Many of the sacrifices he described were true of individual and team athletes alike. So I asked him what’s different in Olympic caliber team athletes. His answer really interested me.

“The biggest thing in team is the ability to hide.  That’s the easiest part of it.  When you’re individual athletes, there’s nowhere to hide, it’s you against you.  In the team environment, there are so many reasons you can make excuses.”

Questions for you to consider.

  • How do you ensure you excel as an individual to add your full value for the team?
  • How do you take full accountability for your performance, even in situations where your performance is affected by others?
  • What are you willing to do, and what are you willing to give up, to make your team successful?
  • How will you need to flex and adapt to be successful within your particular team?

John’s provocation really helped me think about my definition of a great team player.  I am now more attuned to the very special person it takes to be a part of a high performance team. 

First, you must be a truly excellent individual contributor who is willing to push and challenge yourself to be better and better without counting on the team to pick up the slack. 

Then; you, the driven, self-reliant, ambitious individual must be willing to work together, to complement the rest of the team, to change your individual success formula, to defer to the directions of your coach, and to subjugate yourself to the team when required. And now you see what a truly rare bird we’re talking about.

Which half of the equation is more difficult for you?  Are you comfortable driving for individual excellence but struggling to flex your style for the benefit of the team?  Or are you the collaborative team type who needs to put more effort into increasing your own contribution?

And most importantly, what will you do differently once you know the answer?

For more information or to register for the XL Leadership Summit, click here.

Further Reading

How to Deal with an Over-Powering Person on your Team

Talent, Teamwork, and Winning the World Cup

10 Teamwork Situations that Define your Character