Command Issue February 2018



Sports fanatic or not, the reader will learn from Sam Walker’s extraordinary research-based analysis of what makes great leaders and great teams.
To summarize in three sentences: At the outset, Walker explains his criteria for deciding the 16 most successful sports teams in history – criteria that are naturally very controversial and contested. Walker further explores the singular characteristic that all of these super-elite teams had in common – each had a strong player- captain who served as the glue and driving force that propelled these teams to break out from those which were great once, or twice, but sustained being great over a period of years – the “Greatest Of All Time.”

Finally, he explores each of seven characteristics he found common to each these team captains – and, there are some surprises here – before he concludes in Part III, with what he calls “The Opposite Direction – Leadership Mistakes and Misperceptions.”
Walker argues there are lessons learned that can make any team better – if a leader can find, and support the right “captain” within the organization, with the respect and moral authority to serve as a sparkplug, motivator, and disciplinarian within the team.
He does go to some effort to apply his criteria for excellence of team captains to settings outside of the most elite sports teams, including leadership in all types of organizations.

The Seven Traits. The heart of this book is Part 2, in which Walker dedicates a separate chapter to explore each of the seven qualities he found that the captains of his Tier 1 teams shared:

  • Extreme doggedness and focus in competition;
  • Aggressive play that tests the limits of the rules;
  • A willingness to do thankless jobs in the shadows;
  • A low-key, practical, and democratic communication style;
  • Motivates others with passionate nonverbal displays;
  • Strong convictions and the courage to stand apart; and,
  • Ironclad emotional control.

Walker’s overarching theme? If we define truly exceptional teams as those who have succeeded at the very highest levels for an extended period of time, that level of success may require a somewhat different style of leadership, than what works to be “merely” very good or great.
In doing so, Walker reveals, what for some, may be uncomfortable truths in his analysis.