The Real Hero
The quest for the legendary “hero”, a simple panacea to solve all our problems, is often a mirage. Groups do not become teams just because someone calls them so. Nor do teamwork drills alone ensure team performance. The deemed heroes may play a significant role in pursuits that are individualistic yet most organizations thrive only when they can create a synergistic mosaic of individual brilliance. A group of great individuals alone rarely results in a great team. Without a compelling vision to bind them together and a felt need to succeed, an accumulation of disparate individuals, however bright, degenerates into a just a group, where extraordinary performance continues to be an elusive dream. Great talent, indeed, is second to good teamwork.
Sports history, especially the team game, shares revealing insights. If you recall, just half a decade ago, the legendary line-up of Real Madrid’s celebrated football club was awe inspiring. One would have expected the likes of Figo, Ronaldo, Zidane and Raul, stars in their own right, to have weaved a team that would virtually remain undefeated in European football history. These players, irrespective of personal achievements in their respective contexts, unfortunately shared no common purpose, with incoherence and fragmentation weakening the morale of the club. The club failed to find themselves, and the famed Galacticos got sorely relegated having suffered levels of humiliation not often associated with the world’s most successful club.
Individual aspirations of prima donnas have a tendency to take precedence over the team’s goal. You cannot afford to underestimate the contribution of team players, who have a significant role to play, though not as well recognized as the acclaimed heroes in their midst. Thomas Hardy poignantly writes in his “ Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” that it is a travesty that the best of talent sometimes goes unrecognized:“ Full many a gem of the purest ray serene, The dark unfathomed caves of the ocean bear, Full many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness in the desert air.” A great team learns to recognize individual capabilities and depends on being able to harness talent across the pyramid, making each one count.
Think of an orchestra, weaving a unique and winning symphony in the field, with every member playing his part. The Australian cricket team, perhaps, is a case in example. When you have great team camaraderie, even discord would be harmony. We, in India, look back wistfully at our last World Cup win and wonder why our cricket team today, filled with stars that can outlast any opposition, alone, on a given day, is struggling to find its feet, a fate not anticipated, perhaps. The truth lies in the fact that their best victories of yore have always been a collective effort when every player did his bit. Good teaming is an equal opportunity enterprise, where everyone can play his part, and the essence of a team is shared commitment.
Anthropology has long revealed the interplay between the need to cooperate and the urge to be competitive. In organizational settings, the golden mean is achieved when we find an optimal balance between the two. The best of social contracts endure when we safeguard ourselves from taking extreme positions, where complementary values are created and conflicts mitigated. Individual genius must be allowed to flourish within a group, yet the collective focus on end outcomes can never be lost sight of. You develop respect for each other when you recognize that your talent alone is insufficient on its own. Leaders recognize that if you know how to understand and tap the knowhow of each member in your team, you are a king. It is prudent to recognize that it is the Team which is the real Hero!
(The Hero: This picture of the legendary Bruce Lee, a martial arts super star, was taken on the waterfront of Hong Kong, which celebrates its most famous citizen in a finely crafted sculpture. Lee’s brilliance was there for the world to see in the inimitable ‘Enter the Dragon’.
Much as we love to celebrate individuals, history teaches us that even wars are started by individuals yet won by the armies, of faceless soldiers willing to give up even their lives, on the battlefield, for a collective cause.)