The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni


Yesterday I finished The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues by Patrick Lencioni. In the past, I read several of Pat’s books including The Five Dysfunctions of a TeamThe MotiveSilos, Politics and Turf Wars; and I can assure you those are phenomenal. The next book of his I started reading now is Death by Meeting.

Patrick argues in this book that an ideal team player will be the right combination of the virtues humble, hungry and smart. 

(1) Humble: Humility means focusing on the greater good, instead of focusing on yourself or having an inflated ego. Humble people are willing to own up to their failures or flaws, apologize for their mistakes, accept others’ apologies and can sincerely appreciate others’ strengths/skills. It’s the most important trait of being a great team player. Be confident but drop the ego. Humble team members are quick to give credit to others. It’s not about thinking less of yourself but it’s thinking of yourself less.

(2) Hungry: Being hungry means that you always seek more, do more, learn more, or take on more responsibility.  Hungry people are self-motivated to work hard, take initiative and go beyond their call of duty. Always look for more to do and learn. Hungry members inspire others to be hungry too. It’s not driven solely by personal ambition but thinking about the future and bringing your fullest and best effort to it.

(3) Smart (or People-smart): This means having common sense about people, being aware of and perceptive about other people, asking good questions, listening well and knowing how to respond effectively. They are able to work effectively with all kinds of people. It’s not about being intellectually smart, but knowing what to say to others and how it impacts them. Use good judgment and common sense when interacting with others.

If someone is neither humble nor hungry and nor smart – don’t hire them; fire them if they are already in your team. Fortunately, you will almost never find a team player who lacks all 3 of these virtues. Instead, Lencioni first describes the behaviors of individuals who have only one of these 3 virtues.

  • Humble Only – The Pawn: Pawns are nice, unassuming people who don’t have much drive to accomplish things and lack the social smarts to build effective relationships with others on the team. Because they are nice and get along, pawns tend to get tolerated by teams for a good period of time.
  • Hungry Only – The Bulldozer: Bulldozers have great drive and can push the team forward, but they tend to break a lot of relationships along the way because they don’t care much about other people’s feelings. They are also self-centered and want to take advantage of the team for their own purposes.
  • Smart only – The Charmer: Charmers like to put on a good show for the team but don’t contribute much. They like to tell people how good they are but don’t really care for the team’s success. Unfortunately, their entertaining style will keep them on the team even longer than the Pawns.

Next, Lencioni looks at team members who have strengths in 2 of the 3 key virtues. These people are more difficult to recognize because their strengths can obscure their weaknesses. These people can become strong team players if they address and correct the one bad behavior. If the negative characteristic is too strong to overcome, then they may never become an ideal team player – 

  • Humble and Hungry, but not Smart – The Accidental Mess maker: They mean well and don’t want any credit but lack the people skills to communicate effectively with other team members. Their words and actions can often lead to frustration with other team members. But, they do contribute and are respected by others because they have the work ethic to move the team forward.
  • Humble and Smart, but not Hungry – The Lovable Slacker: They have the humbleness and people skills to get on well with other team members but lack the drive to contribute to the team’s goals. They often have other interests outside the team that are more important to them. Their friendly disposition often makes it hard for leaders to confront them on their lack of drive.
  • Hungry and smart, but not Humble – The Skillful Politician: They are the most dangerous people to have on a team because they are good at manipulating people to achieve their own objectives. They are hard-working but like to bask in the glory of what they have accomplished. Skillful Politicians need to be identified, called out and corrected or moved off the team as quickly as possible.

You can apply this model to hire people, assess existing staff, developing existing team members and thus embed these 3 virtues as the culture of the organization.

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