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Book:  The Ideal Team Player

Author:  Patrick Lencioni

Purchase:  PrinteBookAudiobook

Citation:  Lencioni, P. (2016). The ideal team player : how to recognize and cultivate the three essential virtues : a leadership fable. Hoboken, New Jersey: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Brand.

Big Takeaways and Key Ideas:
  1. Too many leaders hire mostly for competency and technical skills.  For organizations committed to making teamwork a cultural reality, I’m convinced that the “right people” are the ones who have the three virtues in common – humility, hunger, and people smarts (pg. 155)

  2. Ideal team players possess adequate measures of humility, hunger, and people smarts.  They have little ego when it comes to needing attention or credit for their contributions, and they are comfortable sharing their accolades or even occasionally missing out on them.  Ideal team players work with a sense of energy, passion, and personal responsibility, taking on whatever they possibly can for the good of the team. (pg. 173)



Humility is the most important of the three; Definition:  Great team players lack excessive ego or concerns about status.  They are quick to point out the contributions of others and are slow to seek attention for their own.  They share credit, emphasize team over self, and define success collectively rather than individually. (pg. 157)

Many leaders tolerate people who aren’t humble.  They hire self-centered people and then justify it simply because those people have desired skills. Or, they see arrogant behavior in an employee and fail to confront it, citing that person’s individual contributions as an excuse.  

There are two types of people who lack humility: The most obvious kind is the overly arrogant people who make everything about them.  The next type is much less dangerous, but still worth understanding.  These people lack self-confidence but are generous and positive with other. They have a disproportionately deflated sense of self-worth that often hurts teams by not advocating for their own ideas or by failing to call attention to problems that they see.



Definition:  Hungry people are always looking for more.  More things to do. More to learn. More responsibility to take on.  Hungry people almost never have to be pushed by a manager to work harder because they are self-motivated and diligent.  They are constantly thinking about the next step and the next opportunity. And they loathe the idea that they might be perceived as slackers.  (pg. 159)​

Too often, leaders hire people who aren’t hungry because that person can falsely project a sense of hungry during an interview.  As a result, those leaders find themselves spending inordinate amounts of time trying to motivate non-hungry team members once they’re on board.



Definition: It’s not about intellectual capacity.  In the context of a team, smart simply refers to a person’s common sense about people.  It has everything to do with the ability to be interpersonally appropriate and aware. Smart people tend to know what is happening in a group situation and how to deal with others in the most effective way. (pg. 160)

A person who is not humbled will not be able to be vulnerable and build trust, making them unable to engage in honest conflict and hold others accountable.  And they’ll have a hard time committing to decisions that don’t serve their interests. A colleague who lacks hunger will not be willing to engage in uncomfortable conflict, hold peers accountable for their behaviors, or do whatever it takes to achieve results, choosing instead to take an easier path. (pg. 164)


Too many interviews are so generic that they provide little or no insight into specific attributes.  It is amazing that as we move further into the twenty-first century, most interviews are still the same stilted, rehearsed, and predictable conversations they were forty years ago.  (pg. 175)​

I often like to talk with candidates in a room with a diverse group of multiple team members.  This allows us to debrief more effectively. Some people are much different one-on-one than they are in a group.  ​

Asking an interviewee a question once often yields a generically acceptable answer.  Asking that question again in a different way might get you to a different answer. If you’re not sold on the response, ask a third time in a more specific way, and you will often get a more honest answer.  

Ask what others would say – there is just something about having to answer on behalf of another person that makes a candidate more honest. “How would colleagues describe your work ethic?” “How would your manager describe your relationships with colleagues?” “If you were to ask your colleagues to asses your level of humility, what would they say?” (pg. 178)

If you have a doubt about person’s humility, hunger, or smarts, don’t ignore it.  Keep probing. More often than not, there is something causing the doubt. That’s not to discourage keeping an open mind, but erring on the side of assuming that a person is a team player is a bad idea.  

Before you offer a candidate a job, assure them that you are absolutely, fanatically committed to these principles and that if an employee made it through the interview not sharing that commitment, they would be miserable working there.  Let the candidates know that they would be called out for their behavior, again and again, and that they’d eventually dread coming to work.

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