Sam Walker is the Wall Street Journal’s deputy editor for enterprise, the unit that directs the paper’s in depth page on features and investigative reporting projects. He also founded the paper’s daily sports coverage.
The sub title of this book is “The hidden force that creates the world’s greatest teams”
Walker obviously has a keen interest in sport, but more than that he decided to try to identify the greatest sporting teams ever. Sounds like a popular talking point at a barbecue! He developed a formula that he believed identified the sixteen most dominant sporting teams ever. Interestingly there were two Australian teams in the sixteen. Before you read on pause to think about the teams you think it might be.
Identifying the teams wasn’t really the point of his interest however. What he really wanted to do was figure out what, if anything, these amazing teams had in common. As a professional coach, mentor and consultant of course I was hanging out for the answer to be the coach! It wasn’t that, albeit Walker acknowledges the role that coaches play.
What these amazing teams had in common according to Walker was some attributes of the captain of the team. He identified seven core qualities each consistently displayed and some of them frankly are surprising and also a little disconcerting (in the case of one).
The reason I’m sharing this review with you is that the book is really about leadership and it uses sport as a way to present its views. To quote Walker:
“Though it uses sport as its source material, it’s ultimately a book about a single idea – one that is simple, powerful, and can be applied to teams in many other fields, from business and politics to science and the arts. It’s the notion that the most crucial ingredient in a team that achieves and sustains historic greatness is the character of the player who leads it.”
For the record, the two Australian teams identified were the Collingwood football team from 1927 to 1930 and the Hockeyroos – Australian women’s hockey team from 1993 to 2000. I’ll let you read the book to find out what the other teams were, although I should acknowledge that the NZ all Blacks got picked twice!
Having identified the 16 teams Walker also identified the captains and pretty quickly realised that the success of the teams often matched very closely the tenure of the captain. For Collingwood the captain was Syd Coventary and for the Hockeyroos it was Rechelle Hawkes (although there is an interesting twist in the story about Hawkes.)
Here are the seven traits Walker identified in the elite captains:
- Extreme doggedness and focus in competition
- Aggressive play that tests the limits of the rules
- A willingness to do thankless jobs in the shadows
- A low key, practical and democratic communication style
- Motivates others with passionate nonverbal displays
- Strong convictions and the courage to stand apart
- Ironclad emotional control
I’m not going to do a detailed breakdown of each of this traits – I’ll let you read the book for that. I am however going to comment on a few insofar as how I see them relating to leading an accounting firm.
The first trait includes focus and I have long said this is a really crucial word for accounting firm owners and managers to remember. It is easy to be distracted by things that take our attention away from what is important and what will get us closer to our goals. I regularly see this in firms. It is not uncommon for an owner to be distracted by a “shiny object” which is tangential to their plans but somehow grabs attention. While it is useful to be open to new opportunities which we may not have considered when building our plan my experience is that we are easily distracted to the detriment of achieving our goals.
The fifth trait is about actions speaking louder than words. It is what you do that matters more than what you say. A key area where this comes through is in respect of values. It is common for firms to have a set of values which they articulate and I see that as a good and positive thing. However, what I also see sometimes is the leaders of firms not actually living those values. There is a difference between what they say and what they do. To use another popular phrase, this is about you as a leader not just talking the talk but also walking the walk. When you are the leader the members of the team look to you and follow your lead. Or more precisely your actions.
This is a fascinating book, which presents as well researched and I believe is worthy of a read by accounting firm owners and managers. As Sam Walkers says, there are clearly lessons that can be taken from sport and applied to business.