The Secret of Successful Teams – Humility

Baptism of Christ by Perugino

At Home

“We’re taking over!”

My eight year old son David stood in the kitchen gloating, with arms stretched out in jubilation. For years, he and his younger siblings had played second fiddle to the older kids. They had gone to bed earlier. They had waited for the bathroom. They had eaten fewer cookies. But that was all about to change.

Of the eight children in our family, four had officially moved out. Only four kids were left at home. The power had shifted.

Unfortunately, the new team had barely washed their hands for dinner before a controversy erupted over how to spend our first night as a (relatively) small family. Not surprisingly, each child advocated a different activity.

Within minutes, the boys formed an ad hoc alliance and hurled accusations of selfishness at the girls. The girls got upset, an argument ensued, and none of the desired activities ended up taking place.

Not exactly a shining example of teamwork. Then it hit me. I had seen this all before.

At Work

As a young accountant, I remember sitting in my office and hearing an excited stream of vulgarity coming from down the hall. Initially, I couldn’t tell whether Bruce, one of the partners in the firm, was angry or in pain. It turned out to be neither. Bruce had been quoted in a national newspaper that day. His head barely fit through the door.

“Look at this! Page one! Check it out!” Bruce exclaimed excitedly. I’ll leave out the colorful language, but it was clear that he wanted to make sure everyone in the office knew he had made the national press. No question, Bruce was a smart guy.

Yet no one wanted to work with him.

Shortly after this episode, one of the senior partners in the firm retired. Bruce used the opportunity to solidify his power base within the firm. He ended up clashing with various other partners, as they each wanted something different. Factions emerged, associated with one partner or another. Conflict followed, sometimes overt, often passive.

Over the course of time, morale declined, the firm lost a couple clients, and several key staff left for other opportunities. The situation really didn’t work out well for anyone. Not exactly a shining example of teamwork. Sound familiar?

Lessons Learned

The experience taught me a hard lesson: pride, or ego, can kill a team. I saw it many more times throughout my career, every now again in my family, and sadly, sometimes in myself. I’m willing to bet you have seen similar situations play out time and time again.

Most of us are integral parts of many teams. However, as Catholic we’re called to strive for unity – in our families, in our workplaces, in our Church.

In the workplace, our word for unity is “teamwork.” Different word, same concept. So how can we transcend our human and cultural tendency to “look out for number one” and instead act as team players, whether at home or at work? I believe our faith holds the answer.

The key to effective teamwork is humility.

Unity in Diversity

With pride, or ego at work, we seek to build ourselves up and “get ahead.” You may have seen examples of this in co-workers who work extreme hours and disregard their families. Bosses who treat staff members poorly and focus only on their own success. Have you ever worked in a “political” workplace culture, where people seek the ruin of one another’s careers? The root cause can usually be traced back to pride, an insidious and deadly sin.

Humility, on the other hand, is demonstrated through co-workers who pitch in when someone is out sick. A boss who spends time coaching a struggling employee, taking a sincere interest in him. An environment focused on serving others, giving of oneself, rather than simply gaining recognition or accumulating wealth. Humility is a source of tremendous power.

Our culture tends toward the individualistic, and it’s easy for us as Catholics to fall into the same patterns of thinking. Yet we should be more circumspect. We are taught in Scripture about the body of Christ consisting of many different parts, and the importance of valuing each part. The same is true for teams at work – the beginning of good teamwork is valuing others and appreciating their unique talents.

Team Training

When is the last time you took a class in how to help someone else get ahead? Or how to be a good follower? How to submit to organizational authority?

Yep, those classes don’t exist. However, these skills are critically important aspects of teamwork, and most Catholics already understand these concepts in the context of our faith. We simply need to apply the same principles to all our roles.

We can’t all be leaders. We’re not all called to be the CEO. But every Catholic should be an outstanding team player. We are directed throughout Scripture to approach our relationship with God in a spirit of humility. Our approach to others, in our families and our workplaces, should also reflect this approach.

So what happened to my kids? Well, they adjusted to the new power structure, and we began praying a decade of the rosary together each evening. It provides a wonderful opportunity to pray for one another, and is just one way we strive to strengthen our family “team.”

Try This

To power your team to new heights, consider the following to embrace a spirit of humility:

  1. Say you’re sorry. Most of us make mistakes on a regular basis. When we admit our failures and take responsibility, we demonstrate character.
  2. Speak positively about others. Think of it as gossip in reverse – go out of your way to build up others in their absence.
  3. Do your best to help your boss, and your team, succeed. Pay it forward, so to speak, and do good things for others out of gratitude to God.
  4. People are smart in different ways. Embrace others whose “smarts” are different than yours. They make your team stronger.
  5. Compliment someone directly, for something specific, at least once every day. It can be small, but watching for others to succeed will change you.

This list is by no means exhaustive! There are countless other ways to exercise our humility in our workplaces, and our families. What are the best ways you’ve seen?


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About the Author

Kevin M. Lowry is an enthusiastic convert to the Catholic faith, and the son of a former Presbyterian minister who also became Catholic. A graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville and Franklin University, Kevin spent over twenty years in secular financial and executive management roles. Kevin serves as Chief Operating Officer for The Coming Home Network International, a Catholic apostolate that assists non-Catholic clergy and laity on the journey to the Catholic Church and beyond. Kevin is a member of the Board of Directors of Our Sunday Visitor and is President of the Columbus (Ohio) chapter of Legatus. Kevin’s first book, entitled “Faith at Work: Finding Purpose Beyond the Paycheck” has just been released! The book encourages readers to integrate their faith and work in order to draw closer to Christ. The story of his conversion to Catholicism appears in Patrick Madrid’s popular book, “Surprised by Truth 2.” His web site and blog can be found at http://gratefulconvert.com. Kevin and his wife Kathi live in Columbus Ohio and have eight children.

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2 Comments

  1. Kevin,

    Your article is spot on! I have observed similar scenes play out at home and the workplace many times. I love that you wrote this through the Catholic perspective and thank you for sharing these great tips on how to embrace humility.

    God bless,

    Randy

  2. Kevin,

    Thank you for these words of wisdom. My career is long enough that it has spanned the age of the individual performer and the age of the team. No matter where one comes down on which model works best in what situation, the one constant is that as long as people are trying, it is always better to help others be successful.

    Effective leadership begins with humility. Sure we can cite examples of successful business people who truly lacked a humble bone in their body, but that depends on how one defines successful. Your ideas build up every team member (and presumably would apply also to the customer), makes it more likely that everyone will succeed and will lead to the organization’s success.

    Deacon Mike

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