Are you a team player?


A few years ago I was flying from San Jose to Phoenix, impatiently waiting at the gate as all the lucky holder’s of Zone One tickets pressed to the front of the crowd. The stewardess began her spiel about letting families with young children board first, and anyone requiring special assistance, as the rest of us pretended to listen.  

The man in front of me was obviously a veteran traveler. He had his shirt cuffs rolled up, and his carry-on suitcase cornered like a Porsche and spun in tight 360 degree circles. When the stewardess invited all the “Elite” and “Star Club” passengers to board next, he motioned for the young woman in Army fatigues to step ahead of him in line. “Oh, no,” she said, surprised. “I’m not Elite.” He looked her uniform up and down, and replied “Yes, you are” before motioning for her to step ahead of him again.

The stewardess had overheard the exchange, and checked the beaming young woman in with the rest of the first class passengers. I was totally impressed...just by considering someone other than himself, unexpectedly and unnecessarily, this man established himself as a leader to those of us within earshot. He offered her respect, and everyone else took his lead; the stewardess broke protocol, and no passengers complained about letting her cut the line.  

Team players focus on bringing out the best in others. Instead of seeking out the spotlight for themselves, they show their leadership by helping the people around them to shine. In doing so, team players usuall end up building a great reputation for themselves, too!

Here are 5 simple ways to be a team player at your internship, volunteer site, job, etc. this week. For more ideas, check out this tiny but powerful book.  

  1. Come up with a solution for something your team is challenged by. You know that nagging thing annoying everyone...the microwave constantly on the fritz, the listserve with inaccurate email addresses, the disorganized office supply closet, etc.? Instead of thinking, “Somebody should really do something about that…,” be the somebody. Do the something.

  2. Compliment a colleague (In front of others, if that’s something they’d like!) sharing why you appreciate them, what you admire about their work, or acknowledging something they did well. Don’t you love a kind word? They can improve a day and change an attitude, so share them generously!

  3. Look for the highest common denominator. It happens…people get comfortable, talk gets loose, and before you know it the conversation has descended into gossip. Master a few phrases to elevate and refocus the dynamics around you onto something positive and professional. Lead the way to higher ground with a casual hint, “Soooo, about those Mets…” followed by a quick topic change, or a heartfelt “You guys, I’d be horrified if I was the one gone tonight and this conversation was about me. Since he’s not here to tell his side of the story, why don’t we move on?”

  4. Take one for the team. If it’s one of those nights when someone needs to stay late, or a shift needs to be covered for a sick team member, or someone has to work on a project with a notoriously difficult personality, take a turn volunteering enthusiastically, and don’t be a martyr about it.  

  5. Follow through on your commitments. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Simple.