With the Chicago Cubs in 2016, backup catcher David Ross played in only 75 games (out of 179). Yet, when the Cubs won the World Series, the other players carried him off the field on their shoulders.
Because Ross was a good teammate. The oldest player on the team, he was known in the locker room as “Grandpa.” The younger players knew they could have fun with him, but they also knew they had an honest, dependable mentor.
The team’s manager, Joe Maddon, depended on Ross too. As a player working with fellow players, Ross could provide guidance and leadership the manager and coaches couldn’t. The kind of leadership that says, “I’m in this right along with you.”
Lots of leaders lead from up front, like a general riding into battle.
Some leaders lead from behind — providing guidance and removing obstacles, but preferring to cast the limelight on the team rather than on themselves. Leading from behind has much in common with servant leadership.
Then there are leaders, like Ross, who lead from within. Rather than a job title (VP, Director, Manager), their leadership is based on the trust and respect they’ve earned from the team.
Now retired from baseball, Ross has written a book, Teammate, in which he describes the attributes of a good teammate — in baseball, in business, or anywhere.
A good teammate is dependable
Your fellow team members “know that you will get your job done and they can rely on you.” For me, this is indispensable. You can fake it (I’ve seen people try), but not for long.
Being dependable doesn’t mean you’re the top performer on the team. It means that you understand your role and that the team can trust you to pull your weight.
A good teammate is supportive
When someone is struggling and needs help, you see the need (even if the other person can’t see it, or won’t ask for help) and you provide positive, constructive help, with sensitivity.
A good teammate is self-aware
You know your role, you know where you stand with the other team members, and you’re secure. As a result, you can focus on the team’s situation rather than your own. You can provide perspective.
Above all, you’re authentic. Everyone knows you’re speaking from your heart, that the good of the team — not your own ambition or recognition — comes first for you.
Dependable. Supportable. Self-aware. That’s the kind of teammate I try to be.
In today’s changeable business climate, chances are good that you — like me — will move back and forth between explicit leadership roles, like manager or team lead, and non-leadership roles as a member of a team.
Remember that even when you’re not on top of an organization chart, you have the opportunity to add value by leading from within.