Friday confession: hypocrisy

I need to confess that I’m a hypocrite. I don’t try to be, but I am. I recently became convicted of two practices that expose a conflict between my actions and my stated beliefs about teamwork. I’ve always rated myself highly in terms of building and working with teams. Yet these two practices don’t back up my talk. These are a bit random, but it’s a Friday.

1. My favorite TV shows are anti-teamwork. I’m a fan of House, the show about Dr. Gregory House and his band of disciples. While the circumstances provide opportunity for his understudies to work and live together, in a sense forming a stilted community forged by common hardship (their boss), Dr. House demonstrates no ability or desire to draw them into his confidence or to invest in them. His entire driver is ego, and he keeps them around to feed his reputation as the answer man. When he’s not present, their efforts at medical problem solving are futile. He has to be the hero.

Then there’s The Closer. While she’s a lot more likable than Dr. House, Brenda is just like him in that her staff are helpless without her to swoop in and draw out a confession. Why doesn’t she equip them to be able to do the same thing? In her case, ego is less obvious; she needs to be needed.

2. I have not participated in a team sport in more than a decade. I love pickup volleyball and soccer games. Neither sport is an individual effort, so on its face, these games are opportunities to practice teamwork. Right? Not quite. Yes, you are thrown into a group who have to pull together to win, but nothing rides on the score, and most players participate for either enjoyment, exercise or personal glory. The more competitive (like me) have to get a good spike or a goal or even a great assist to walk away at the end of the game with personal satisfaction. There is no commitment to a group of other individuals, no pain of practice, no community of common experience. Call it a working group, but don’t call it a team.

So if teamwork is my passion, then how can I practice what I believe even in my viewing habits and my leisure activities? For starters, I guess I’ve got to join a league. That’s going to be difficult, given the travel realities for my new job.

My viewing habits may be surprisingly difficult to adjust. To tell you the truth, I can’t think of a single U.S. TV show that promotes teamwork. America is built on individualism, and our stories support the myth of personal glory and effort. Every group has to have a hero. Can you think of a TV show that glorifies teamwork? Thinking back, perhaps the A-Team? Movies are a bit more common. The Dirty Dozen? Apollo 13 was a good one.

What are your favorite team movies? What about TV? Someone out there needs to redeem that medium for me.

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Taking yourself seriously

As I was walking into the office a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that a young leader was wearing a blazer… again. In a pretty casual department his attire stood out. Turns out he’s been dressing up consistently since the new year. When I asked about it, the response was that he’s trying to take himself more seriously.

Taking yourself seriously is a quality worth adding to our list of early seeds of leadership. There are a number of indicators that a person is preparing himself for future roles. At the earliest stage, this might include dressing up. It might also include a desire to spend time with senior leaders. Let’s look at a few examples.

When I was visiting with another organization recently, one of the senior leaders pointed out what first stood out to him about their youngest vice president: he had never been intimidated by leaders at the highest levels, instead choosing to interact with them… and ask lots of questions. I’ve seen this kind of thing myself when the board or senior leadership team gathers. A few young, rising leaders inevitably show up at break times.

A fortysomething leader came to me one day and told me he was considering throwing his hat in the ring to be considered for a promotion. He asked me what I thought. Among other things, I asked him if he considered people at that next level to be colleagues. How comfortable was he with walking into their office to have a conversation? Realizing that he was already at ease at that level was one factor in his decision to pursue a new leadership position.

What it comes down to is whether someone acts like the position they see themselves serving in.

I’m not talking about people who “sell out” to get a position. I think authenticity is extremely important in leadership. In fact, when I moved into the Offices of the President a year ago, I went to two people who knew me well and gave them permission to call me on it if they ever saw me becoming a clone of those I work around. If I ever become someone else in an attempt to get ahead, I want friends who are close enough to point out my hypocrisy.

What I’m talking about is the way David, hiding out in a cave in the wilderness, acted like the king he would become. His circumstances didn’t matter, and he didn’t let the group of misfits surrounding him bring him down to their level. He behaved in a manner suited to a king, and in so doing, laid a course for the way he would act as king.