Who are your personal heroes? Okay, maybe you don’t have heroes exactly. Then let me ask you this: Which people do you admire most? Who do you wish you were more like? Which people fire you up and get your juices flowing? Do you admire . . .
• Business innovators, such as Jeff Bezos, Fred Smith, or Bill Gates?
• Great athletes, such as Michael Jordan, Marion Jones, or Mark McGwire?
• Creative geniuses, such as Pablo Picasso, Buckminster Fuller, or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?
• Pop culture icons, such as Madonna, Andy Warhol, or Elvis Presley?
• Spiritual leaders, such as John Wesley, Billy Graham, or Mother Teresa?
• Political leaders, such as Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, or Winston Churchill?
• Film industry giants, such as D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, or Steven Spielberg?
• Architects and engineers, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, the Starrett brothers, or Joseph Strauss?
• Revolutionary thinkers, such as Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, or Albert Einstein?
Or maybe your list includes people in a field I didn’t mention. It’s safe to say that we all admire achievers. And we Americans especially love pioneers and bold individualists, people who fight alone, despite the odds or opposition: the settler who carves a place for himself in the wilds of the frontier, the Old West sheriff who resolutely faces an enemy in a gunfight, the pilot who bravely flies solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and the scientist who changes the world through the power of his mind.
THE MYTH OF THE LONE RANGER
As much as we admire solo achievement, the truth is that no lone individual has done anything of value. The belief that one person can do something great is a myth. There are no real Rambos who can take on a hostile army by themselves. Even the Lone Ranger wasn’t really a loner. Everywhere he went he rode with Tonto!
Nothing of significance was ever achieved by an individual acting alone. Look below the surface and you will find that all seemingly solo acts are really team efforts. Frontiersman Daniel Boone had companions from the Transylvania Company as he blazed the Wilderness Road. Sheriff Wyatt Earp had his two brothers and Doc Holliday looking out for him. Aviator Charles Lindbergh had the backing of nine businessmen from St. Louis and the services of the Ryan Aeronautical Company, which built his plane. Even Albert Einstein, the scientist who revolutionized the world with his theory of relativity, didn’t work in a vacuum. Of the debt he owed to others for his work, Einstein once remarked, “Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of my fellow men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.” It’s true that the history of our country is marked by the accomplishments of many strong leaders and innovative individuals who took considerable risks. But those people always were part of teams.
The belief that one person can do something great is a myth.
Economist Lester C. Thurow commented on the subject:
There is nothing antithetical in American history, culture, or traditions to teamwork. Teams were important in America’s history— wagon trains conquered the West, men working together on the assembly line in American industry conquered the world, a successful national strategy and a lot of teamwork put an American on the moon first (and thus far, last). But American mythology extols only the individual . . . In America, halls of fame exist for almost every conceivable activity, but nowhere do Americans raise monuments in praise of teamwork.
I must say that I don’t agree with all of Thurow’s conclusions. After all, I’ve seen the U.S. Marine Corps war memorial in Washington, D.C., commemorating the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. But he is right about something. Teamwork is and always has been essential to building this country. And that statement can be made about every country around the world.
THE VALUE OF TEAMWORK
A Chinese proverb states, “Behind an able man there are always other able men.” The truth is that teamwork is at the heart of great achievement. The question isn’t whether teams have value. The question is whether we acknowledge that fact and become better team players. That’s why I assert that one is too small a number to achieve greatness. You cannot do anything of real value alone. That is the Law of Significance.
“There are no problems we cannot solve together, and very few that we can solve by ourselves.”
I challenge you to think of one act of genuine significance in the history of humankind that was performed by a lone human being. No matter what you name, you will find that a team of people was involved. That is why President Lyndon Johnson said, “There are no problems we cannot solve together, and very few that we can solve by ourselves.”
C. Gene Wilkes, in his book Jesus on Leadership, observed that the power of teams not only is evident in today’s modern business world, but it also has a deep history that is evident even in biblical times. Wilkes asserts,
• Teams involve more people, thus affording more resources, ideas, and energy than would an individual.
• Teams maximize a leader’s potential and minimize her weaknesses. Strengths and weaknesses are more exposed in individuals.
• Teams provide multiple perspectives on how to meet a need or reach a goal, thus devising several alternatives for each situation. Individual insight is seldom as broad and deep as a group’s when it takes on a problem.
• Teams share the credit for victories and the blame for losses. This fosters genuine humility and authentic community. Individuals take credit and blame alone. This fosters pride and sometimes a sense of failure.
•Teams keep leaders accountable for the goal. Individuals connected to no one can change the goal without accountability.
• Teams can simply do more than an individual.
If you want to reach your potential or strive for the seemingly impossible—such as communicating your message two thousand years after you are gone—you need to become a team player. It may be a cliché, but it is nonetheless true: Individuals play the game, but teams win championships.
WHY DO WE STAND ALONE?
Knowing all that we do about the potential of teams, why do some people still want to do things by themselves? I believe there are a number of reasons.
Few people are fond of admitting that they can’t do everything, yet that is a reality of life. There are no supermen or superwomen. As Kerry Walls, one of the people on my INJOY Group team, says, “Spinning more plates doesn’t increase your talent—it increases your likelihood of dropping a plate.” So the question is not whether you can do everything by yourself; it’s how soon you’re going to realize that you can’t.
Teamwork is birthed when you concentrate on “we” instead of “me.”
Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie declared, “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 could do alone.” To do something really big, let go of your ego, and get ready to be part of a team.
In my work with leaders, I’ve found that some individuals fail to promote teamwork because they feel threatened by other people. Sixteenth-century Florentine statesman Niccolo Machiavelli probably made similar observations, prompting him to write, “The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.”
I believe that insecurity, rather than poor judgment or lack of intelligence, most often causes leaders to surround themselves with weak people. As I stated in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, only secure leaders give power to others. That is the Law of Empowerment. On the other hand, insecure leaders usually fail to build teams because of one of two reasons: Either they want to maintain control over everything for which they are responsible, or they fear being replaced by someone more capable. In either case, leaders who fail to promote teamwork undermine their own potential and erode the best efforts of the people with whom they work. They would benefit from the advice of President Woodrow Wilson: “We should not only use all the brains we have, but all that we can borrow.”
“We should not only use all the brains we have, but all that we can borrow.”
Consultant John Ghegan keeps a sign on his desk that says, “If I had it to do all over again, I’d get help.” That remark accurately represents the feelings of the third type of people who fail to become team builders. They naively underestimate the difficulty of achieving big things. As a result, they try to go it alone.
Some people who start out in this group turn out okay in the end. They discover that their dreams are bigger than their capabilities, they realize they won’t accomplish their goals solo, and they adjust. They make team building their approach to achievement. But some others learn the truth too late, and as a result, they never accomplish their goals. And that’s a shame.
Some people aren’t very outgoing and simply don’t think in terms of team building and team participation. As they face challenges, it never occurs to them to enlist others to achieve something.
As a people person, I find that hard to relate to. Whenever I face any kind of challenge, the very first thing I...