How to be a leader and a team player at the same time

The summer before the 2010-2011 NBA season was full of promise for the Miami Heat.

The Heat were among the clear favorites in the NBA to capture a championship. After acquiring LeBron James and Chris Bosh in the off-season, joining together with shooting-guard Dwyane Wade, the superstar trio then touted as the "Big Three", were on their way to victory.

The Miami Heat were deemed a 'Super Team'. A season-ending with any standing lower than first place, would have been deemed an utter failure. In their first press conference after the new hires, LeBron James predicted that his new team would be winning for many years:

LeBron James: It's going to be easy. I mean -- Announcer: But we also know you three kings came down here to win championships. LeBron, tell us about that. LeBron James: Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven.

It was not the first time nor the last, that an NBA team filled it's roster with multiple all-stars to facilitate league domination. The Heat came close, but after 6 games during the NBA Championship, they lost to the Dallas Mavericks.

Organizational psychologist and Wharton Universityprofessor- Adam Grant argued, that the Heat's decision to stack the team with all-stars may not have been the wisest decision:

"They had three players who were all used to taking the game-winning shot. Lots of stars means lots of egos and lots of egos means infighting. To overcome that problem, you need humility. Humility is having the self-awareness to know what you're good at and what you're not good at. Studies show that when you have humility in a team, people are more likely to play to their strengths. Instead of going for the spotlight, they take on the roles where they can help the team win."

This episode highlights the challenge that many companies, organizations, and groups face. On the one hand, great leaders will offer vision, inspiration, role-modelling, support, experience, knowledge, organization, and many other talents and capabilities. Nevertheless, leaders are humans just like you and me, they have limitations and are more susceptible to ego inflation.

Adam Grant coined the term "humble narcissist", to describe someone who balances great leadership with teamwork.

Here are 3 takeaways to encourage a more humility-oriented approach to being a leader, enabling one to more seamlessly lead and serve as an equal team player at the same time:

  1. You are not good at everything- Benjamin Franklin wrote in his autobiography: "There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive. Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility". A study cited by the Harvard Business Review notes that when employees feel empowered in the workplace they displayed increased job satisfaction and commitment to their organization. Great leaders understand their own limitations and their teammates strengths, thereby endeavoring to work together to utilize each individual's unique abilities.

  2. Lead for the future of your organization- The Talmud states: What is the meaning of that which is written: “This is the book of the generations of Adam, in the day that God created man” (Genesis 5:1)? Did Adam the first man have a book? Rather, the verse teaches that God, showed Adam, the first man, every generation and its expositors, every generation and its Sages, and every generation and its leaders. The humbling idea behind this passage, expressed most beautifully by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, is that there is no one ideal form of leadership that is right for all times and situations. Great leaders place the best interests of their organization first, seeing themselves as a mere link in a chain of those who led before and those who are to lead after.

  3. Leave some work for others to finish- Israel Baal Shem Tov, the 18th century Rabbi who founded the Hasidic movement, once said: When an individual completes a required spiritual task, there is a danger of generating misplaced feelings of pride. To counteract this, one should stop short of what wants to do. For example, if a destitute person were to ask you for financial assistance of $20,000 toward their child's wedding, if you have the means, you should give them $19,500, to enable others to complete the total, eliminating prideful emotions from getting in the way of the generous gesture. Great leaders take the initiative, but leave space for others to contribute toward each goal or accomplishment.

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