Friday Night Lights is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. In fact, I’ll go ahead and declare it second only to The West Wing for me.
I recently recalled a scene from season 1 where one of the players (“Smash” Williams) during practice is shouting to one of his slacker teammates (Tim Riggins):
“You’re making us look weak. If one person fumbles the ball, we all fumble the ball. If one of us shows up half drunk, we all show up half drunk. We ain’t got time for your games. We’ve got a game to win.”
Now if you aren’t a Friday Nights Lights fan yet, you can’t appreciate this to the extent that I wish you could, as Smash and Riggins have quite a bit of animosity toward one another, both are talented players, but one is driven and invested and the other is not (at least not yet).
In leadership we talk a lot about the importance of teamwork and recruiting “team players.” If I have a soapbox about anything, it’s followership. I’m a big believer in playing well with others and submitting to authority. However, I realized sitting on an airplane a few days ago that I want more than that out of my team and I think you should, too.
You can get along and help each other out and be supportive all you want, but until you fully commit (that is, until you realize that whether it’s your “job” or not, whether it’s your responsibility or not is fairly inconsequential) simply being a “team player” isn’t enough.
I want a team full of committed, creative, responsible, smart people.
People who realize that our own successes and failures are felt beyond our own individual “portfolios”
People who realize that we are only as successful individually as we are corporately
People who realize that our failures and our choices aren’t made in a vacuum
People who realize that when one of us fumbles, we all fumble
People who are in it to win it
I want owners, not just players. Owners know what is at stake. Owners are personally, emotionally, and financially invested in the success of the endeavor. Owners don’t blame shift or pass the buck. They are less interested in how the ball got dropped as much as how we can ensure it doesn’t get dropped again. Owners are builders and not maintainers. Owners are a bit restless and a bit hungry. They have a “what’s next?” attitude that sets them apart. If we are sticking with the football analogy, these are the ones who keep moving the ball down the field.
Sure, training and experience matter. But a person who demonstrates a capacity for ownership and responsibility will distinguish themselves far and away from any lengthy resume. I’d much prefer to teach someone a skill set than try to cultivate a passion or sense of ownership. That’s infinitely more difficult to do.
If you find yourself in a position of leadership and are looking to staff a team, look for owners. We don’t necessarily need teams full of leaders and visionaries so much as we need teams full of owners on every level, in every position.
The work to be done is challenging enough without the added unnecessary task of motivating people to care. Owners come with care built in already.
If you are looking for a place to serve, applying for a job, joining a team, make the decision to own what you are spending your time and energy on. It will make the work more rewarding and the sacrifices worth it.
I know I’ve mixed metaphors here a bit between sports and business, but I hope the through line is clear enough:
We’ve got a game to win.
And in the words of the best football coach of all time, Coach Eric Taylor:
CLEAR EYES, FULL HEARTS, CAN’T LOSE!