The Reality of the Team Player Mindset

Being a “team player” is required on countless job descriptions and touted on nearly every resume submitted for employment consideration.  Have you stopped to really think about what being a team player means?  On the surface, it is about getting along with others. As it may have been explained to you as a child, it is about “playing nice.”  However, in the workplace, being a team player goes much deeper than that.

Being a team player is a mindset. A belief that if your colleagues do not succeed, you do not succeed because your team will fail.  A belief that does not place boundaries on what you will and will not do to support your team and your colleagues (within reason and integrity). 

Being a team player means rising to the challenge time and again, with a good attitude, a sense of cooperation, and the drive to succeed.

Being a team player means you will sometimes pick up the pieces after others, do more work with less appreciation, and take the blame when things go wrong. 

After reading that, people may wonder why anyone would not only be willing to be a team player, but to eagerly strive to implement a team player mindset.  The reason is simply because we are stronger together. Individuals can do great things, but they can achieve so much more with the support of a group.   

The idea of sacrificing to be a team player seems more realistic if the person’s personal values and mission align with that of the organization he/she is working for.

Knowing what matters is important. Identifying personal missions, values, and beliefs can help you determine what line of work to pursue.  If the career conflicts with your personal values, then you will never be fully capable of leading, working as a committed team member, and making a difference as a professional.  Teamwork depends on buy-in and success depends on the team.

When to Lead

Leading by example is one of the best ways an employee without a position of formal power can lead. Being a leader does not begin and end with a title. Although that is a type of leader, leadership can also fall to people who have the power to influence others.  This is the simplest form of leadership yet is neglected by so many.  Essentially, the leader demonstrates what should be done and is doing it. Whether that is working without complaining, avoiding gossip, remaining joyful in unpleasant times, or pitching in to achieve a common goal, the leader by example is powerful.  They are not designated as a leader, but they are leading as much as the person giving orders because without that type of buy-in, the orders would never be accomplished.

When to Follow

Equally as important as leadership in the system of workplace dynamics is the idea of followership.  Followers hold their leaders accountable and know when to take a message and implement it.  Followers know how to support their leaders, model respect, and live the mission they have pledged to implement.  Followers are also incredibly important in fulfilling a mission they believe in.

Here is where things get interesting: every good follower is a leader by default.  If the follower is demonstrating success, it is because they have put the needs of others before them.  When that happens, they become a leader of people.

Leadership is exercised as commitment, follow-through, and selflessness. Serving others is leading. 

Aligning Missions

Leading and following work together.  Knowing when to lead and when to follow takes a person who is aware of their circumstances and expectations.  It takes a person who understands their mission and is committed to faithfully executing it.  Reflect on the following questions to deepen your understanding of knowing when to lead and when to follow:

  • What does being a “team player” mean to you?
  • What is your mission in life that you hope to also make your professional mission?
  • Think of a person you have worked with who had the power to influence others without being in a formal position of power.  What characteristics or traits did they have?
  • What characteristics or traits would you like to see in those who follow you?
  • What role do you gravitate towards more easily, leader or follower?  What can you do to better serve in the other role?
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