No Bad Teams

Two of my favorite authors on the subject of leadership, Simon Sinek and Jocko Willink, share a key principle in leading a team…whether it is your family, at church or at work. The principle is that there is no such thing as a bad team…only bad leaders.

For those of us who lead others, this principle can be a hard lesson to learn. It is far easier to blame the subpar performers on your team or to shuck the blame onto a badly dealt hand. However, both Sinek and Willink have found through their vast experience in leading others that if a team is to be successful it is not dependent on the members of the team, but rather it’s leader.

In Willink’s book, Extreme Ownership, he paints a picture of how this principle played out as an instructor of the infamous Navy SEAL BUDS school. BUDS is one of the world’s toughest selection processes in the military where applicants who inspire to be SEALS must endure grueling mental and physical tasks under very harsh conditions.

In the book, Willink describes how the SEAL candidates are separated into teams and the teams compete against each other in…well…everything. Each team has an appointed team leader who is given instructions for each event and is tasked with relaying that information to their teams and leading them to execute the plan.

In the book, there was a particular boat crew that was consistently losing, and not just by a little…they were getting smoked. The SEAL instructors recognized that the leader and members of this losing boat crew were quick to blame each other and focused on their individual suffering. The instructors conducted an experiment and switched the leader of that boat crew with the team leader who had won virtually every event, while the leader of the losing team would be in charge of the most winning crew. Much to everyone’s surprise, the boat crew that had lost every event that day suddenly made a huge turn around and not only competed better, but won the remainder of the events that day.

The valuable lesson that was taken from that example was that it was not the members of the team that made the difference between meeting their objective and not…it was clearly the leader. The leader that took over the underperforming team took responsibility for the outcome of each mission so he had a personal stake in each of its member’s success. This extreme ownership trickled down to each member of the boat crew and they began to give all they had for each other which resulted in the dramatic change and almost instant success.

Sinek added to this point in his book, Leaders Eat Last, that when leaders aren’t empathetic or concerned with the success of the members of their team, then their natural response is to watch out for themselves, stay under the radar so as not to be noticed and blame others if they are noticed. Teams don’t work well this way. People don’t thrive in these environments…period.

This principle can relate to you as the leader of your marriage, family, church, and at work. Men are given authority to lead at various points in their lives and the responsibility and breadth of that leadership expands as we gain experience. We start as boys. My 11 year old son has the responsibility to take charge for his room, his hygiene and has the opportunity to mentor and lead his younger siblings.

By God’s design, these leadership opportunities grow as we age. If we are aware of the principle that there are no bad teams, only bad leaders, then it can free us from the tendency to blame others for the teams failures, but instead find ways to inspire those in our charge. We can ensure success through courageous leadership and ensuring that those that we are responsible for, know that we have their best interest at heart.

“Put on the Armor of God” (Eph 6:11)