Individual success is a myth, because it takes a team to achieve greatness.
Don’t agree? Consider the most well-known “individual sports” in our culture.
Andy Roddick, by age 21, was ranked number one in the world, the youngest American to hold this rank since computer rankings began in 1973.
But even though Roddick is well known as a singles player, his successes were not only the results of one man’s efforts. Roddick enjoyed a number of coaches, trainers, personal assistants, agents, and support staff who helped him to achieve his fame and on-court victories.
And the same argument holds true for Tiger Woods.
Tiger never won any tournament on his own. His individual success was the result of contributions from many, including his father’s demands for excellence, his wife’s stabilizing support, his caddie’s insights, and his swing coach’s advice.
Once those elements were removed, his performance was clearly affected.
In sports as in any other area of life, to achieve greatness you need the support and resources that a team provides. Teachers need to have coworkers and administrators who offer ideas and encouragement. Corporate projects require diverse skills and knowledge to create a product or bring it to market successfully.
Similarly, coaches and players must let go of their individual egos and learn to work successfully with other contributors if they are truly committed to accomplishing something significant.
Nobody can climb Mount Everest alone.
One of the best examples of this is on display each year at the Naval Academy.
Tradition requires that the freshman class, known as Plebes, climb the 21-foot tall Herndon Monument at the Naval Academy to retrieve the Plebian Sailor’s hat and replace it with an officer’s hat. The annual rite marks the end of having to wear their freshman headgear and closer to becoming a U.S. Naval officer.
The plebe class must work together to accomplish the goal of replacing a white plebe hat from the top of the grey obelisk with an upperclassmen’s hat. It is a metaphorical end to their first year in the Academy, and has become a famous part of Naval Academy tradition.
The “Herndon Climb” ritual began in the 1940’s, and has been a timed event since 1957.
Each year, more than 200 pounds of lard is applied to the monument by upperclassmen to make the task more difficult (and entertaining to watch).
What happens is a tremendous display of team development. To achieve their goal of replacing the hat, one Plebe must reach the top of the obelisk. But with lard covering every side, the young men are forced to work together.
It is a test of not only strength, but of leadership, organization, and sacrifice as well.
Thousands of people, including midshipmen, graduates, parents, visitors, and friends look on each year as confusion and chaos eventually evolve into the group becoming a team. It is a challenge that, over the last 20 years, has taken groups from one to four hours to successfully complete.
To reach the top, many of the plebes become the base of what eventually grows into a human pyramid. While some of the plebes remain on the bottom of the pyramid, some then become a second level of bodies, linking themselves together with arms and legs covered in lard. Then a few climb further, stepping on shoulders and balancing themselves against the monument to establish another level of bodies hooked and held tight enough for one of their numbers, one lone climber, to finally reach the apex and replace the hat.
It is that person who gets his name listed as the successful “scaler.”
But no sane person could argue that he accomplished his victorious climb alone. It required the sacrifice and strength and often thankless efforts of countless others.
And so it is with YOUR team.
It is unlikely that everyone who contributes will be recognized by others for reaching the top of the obelisk your team is facing. But it is important for you and those on your team to celebrate the contributions and sacrifices that important teammates made along the way.
But the fact is that even in the Navy it takes a great team to achieve greatness.
If you are trying to do it all by yourself, you have missed a tremendous lesson. Individual success is truly a myth. If you have done great things, it was with the help of others who deserve your grateful recognition for their efforts.
Even if you could succeed alone, who would you celebrate with?
Our best moments are those we share with people we have sacrificed with in the pursuit of a worthy goal. A great team leader doesn’t tell people it will be easy – he tells them it will be worth it… and knows that all success is the result of many contributions.
If you need a teambuilding speaker to equip your organization with the insights and tools to attack their next challenge successfully, it would be my pleasure to provide an event they will both enjoy and remember.
But you won’t get past the lard and reach the top by yourself.
That takes a team.