Patrick Lencoini, the bestselling author behind such classics as The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Advantage, has returned with a new book, The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues. The books offers “a practical framework and actionable tools for identifying, hiring, and developing ideal team players.” Lencoini lets us in on how humble, hungry and smart can transform your organization.
The Ideal Team Player was inspired by a conversation that you had in 1997 with your employees at The Table Group about the three virtues that every team member should embody to be an ideal team player: humble, hungry and smart. Why was now the right time to adapt these important cultural values into a book?
Actually, humble, hungry and smart, were the values I looked for in anyone that worked for me prior to starting The Table Group. I ran a department at a software company, and I decided early on that those would be the values I’d look for in my people. When I started The Table Group with some of my colleagues from that company, there was no question those values would stay with us. And, it never occurred to me to write about them until my friend and fellow author, Matthew Kelly, encouraged me to do so. It was through a conversation with him that I realized how these concepts could help any leader wanting to find and develop real team players.
Your write that “great team players are somewhat rare”. Why do you think that this is the case?
For a person to be an Ideal Team Player, they have to excel in all three virtues: humble, hungry and smart. What makes an ideal team player powerful and unique is not the individual attributes themselves, but rather the required combination of all three. If even one virtue is lacking in one team member, it makes teamwork significantly more difficult. All human beings are flawed, but the ideal team player is able to consistently demonstrate each of these virtues on a regular basis.
Fables are a hallmark of nearly all of your books to date and The Ideal Team Player is no exception. Why do you think employing a narrative helps the material better resonate with the reader?
When I started writing, I wanted to create something that could hold the reader’s attention. I was an amateur screenwriter when I was younger and I really enjoy how characters and dialogue can help communicate the subtleties of a concept while keeping the readers interested. And, I think seeing how a character works through these concepts in a realistic story can help us to understand them at a deeper level.
In the fable, it was interesting to see how Jeff, Bobby and Clare arrived at just the right words for each of the three virtues. Clare says, “Don’t use the word ego. Find a positive word.” (They eventually settle on humble.) Why do you think language is so important in this particular context?
Humility, I think, is the most appealing and attractive quality a person can possess. It’s of course the greatest of virtues and the antithesis of pride, which the Bible tells us is the root of all sin. We all know we don’t want to work with people with big egos, but I think that humility is something we often overlook. We know when a person doesn’t have it, but we forget to notice when they do.
You point out that “there are two basic types of people who lack humility”. We all know that person who is just plain arrogant, but the other, and this was sort of a light bulb moment for me, is someone “who lacks self confidence but are generous and positive with others. They tend to discount their own talents and contributions, and so others mistakenly see them as humble. But this is not humility. While they are certainly not arrogant, their lack of understanding of their own worth is also a violation of humility.” I thought that was fascinating. Can you elaborate a bit on this?
As a team member, we owe it to our colleagues to bring everything we have to the table. If someone lacks confidence and discounts their contribution, they are robbing the rest of us of the opportunity to leverage their abilities. So, in some ways, that’s putting their needs above the needs of the team if that makes sense.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing The Ideal Team Player?
As I began writing the book and developing the ideas with my colleagues, we were surprised by how much there was to communicate around these three seemingly straightforward virtues. It was a struggle to keep things simple and still communicate the many nuances of the model.
I really liked some of the unconventional approaches to interviews included in the book, like taking the candidate on an errand. How would you sell a leader who might need some convincing on this?
Someone once told me the best way to know if you should hire someone is to take them on a business trip with you. It’s important to see how the candidate handles potentially stressful situations over long periods of time. This isn’t realistic, but the intention is see how the candidate handles his or herself in an unstructured environment and to see if they are someone you want to work with over the long term.
We always like to conclude everything we do with something actionable. What’s one thing that someone reading this right now can do to ensure that they’re a better team player in their organization?
I suggest you rank yourself against the three virtues and tell someone (anyone!) where you think you stand and ask them to help you improve. For example, if hunger comes easiest, then smart, then humble, simply acknowledging that out loud can create greater self-awareness. You can also go to our website and take our complimentary self assessment.
The Ideal Team Player is available now.