Best Practice

How to Diagnose and Lead the Ideal Team Player

Have you ever worked with someone who was determined to get things done but often ran over others on the team in the process? How about someone who doesn’t seek the limelight but also never raises a hand to volunteer to help? Or someone who is a hard worker but is putting on an act of being humble and is actually extremely manipulative?

In his book The Ideal Team Player, Patrick Lencioni identifies great team members as those who are humble, hungry and smart. The book grew out of the question of what type of person it takes to move a team past a concept he outlined in the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and forward to greater cohesion.

Here is what he says about the qualities of an ideal team player and how to lead people who need to develop those qualities:

Humility: Humility is the most important virtue of the three. Great team players, Lencioni writes, don’t have big egos or concerns about status. They are quick to point out the contributions of others and generally don’t seek attention for their own. They define success collectively and not individually. People who are not humble are unable to be vulnerable or build trust and are incapable of engaging in honest conflict.

Leading toward humility: Leaders must be courageous and tactful when addressing a lack of humility in team members. A deficiency in humility could be an indication of an issue at a deeper level and is normally rooted in insecurity. The fine line between humility and confidence needs to be understood in order to help team members achieve a balance between the two. Getting to the foundational causes of a team member’s insecurity will assist in helping a manager deal with this character trait. Managers could use a personality profile tool to help them take an inventory in order to make sense of the source of the team member’s insecurity.

Using an objective basis to identify humility is important because it’s easy for team members to fake being humble. Team members might outwardly display certain behaviors to project a false image of humility, such as being interested in others and giving praise.

Hunger: Hungry people are always looking for more, according to Lencioni. More to do. More to learn. More responsibility. They rarely have to be pushed to work harder because they’re self-motivated and diligent. They’re always thinking about the next step and the next opportunity. People who lack the virtue of hunger won’t achieve results.

Leading toward hunger: Trying to encourage hunger in team members isn’t as delicate as trying to develop humility. Lack of hunger can still be a challenging characteristic to develop, depending on the source. If someone isn’t self-motivated and/or has no desire to be productive, then developing hunger will be an uphill struggle. However, if your team member lacks hunger but actually wants to be more productive and a better asset to the team, that’s a positive position to get traction.

To help team members develop a hunger for the job, you must ensure your strategy is effectively communicated. Team members need to be inspired and brought into the larger strategy. There needs to be a clear line of sight between the team member’s job and how it directly affects the company/organization or, as I call it, leading right into the individual’s cubicle.

People smarts: In the context of teamwork, Lencioni writes, being smart is not about one’s intellectual capacity. Instead, smart team players have good common sense about people. They tend to know what is happening in the group and how to deal effectively with others. They ask good questions, listen to what others are saying and stay engaged in conversations. People who aren’t smart in this regard can create challenges when working to inculcate healthy conflict and broader accountability.

Leading toward people smarts: Team members who lack people smarts rarely go out of their way to cause issues. They’re generally unaware of how their behavior affects others. Encouraging them to develop people smarts needs to be handled diplomatically
since it’s likely they will be taken aback by the unintended consequences of their behavior. The well-being of the whole team should be a leader’s priority, and any behavior that threatens the positive dynamic needs
to be addressed and remedied. The team member who lacks people smarts may be unaware of acceptable social and team conventions, like helping others and defending team members when they’re being unfairly targeted. This is where tools such as DISC personality assessments and leadership evaluations can be invaluable in providing clarity.

Bill “Roto” ReuterBill “Roto”Reuter served for nearly 30 years in the U.S. Navy as a test pilot and as commander for its premier training and development organization. He is now the president of R-Squared Solutions, where he facilitates dynamic workshops  that empower organizations to reach greater success. He can be reached at

As seen in October 2020 i4 Business Magazine


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i4 Business

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