Straight Talk

Teams are the best way to highlight superstars

When I played basketball in junior high school back in the 1930s, we were taught to use two hands for any shot more than five feet from the basket. The spectacular one-handed shots common today were taboo. They were considered showboating and drew expletives from coaches followed by embarrassing invitations to a seat on the far end of the bench. Some years later, a daring young man named Hank Luisetti developed the spectacular one-handed outside shot to perfection. This Hall of Famer is credited with revolutionizing the game of basketball. And perhaps he did. But from my vantage point, too often star players get the credit that rightfully belongs to those who allowed them to be stars. This is especially true in management. Does the credit for revolutionizing basketball really belong to the skillful Luisetti? After all, many youngsters before Hank attempted one-handed outside shots only to be rebuffed by their unimaginative coaches. Johnny Bunn, Stanford University's visionary coach, had the courage to allow Luisetti to showcase his one-handed shooting style in college competition. He designed a system that allowed his talented player to use his unique shot to make the team more effective. Great coaches rarely change great players. They design systems to fit their talents. Take the Chicago Bulls. As I recall, Michael Jordan didn't win all those championships by himself. In fact, it wasn't until Coach Phil Jackson installed a system and added some supporting talent that Jordan was able to use his great talents effectively. It was the team effort, and the team's style of play, that allowed Jordan to use his greatness to help the Bulls win. Reggie Jackson, the baseball star, explains it this way: "A great manager has the knack for making baseball players think they are better than they are. He forces you to have a good opinion of yourself. He lets you know he believes in you. He makes you get more out of yourself. And once you learn how good you really are, you never settle for playing anything less than your very best." Paul "Bear" Bryant, Alabama's great coach, said: "If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semigood, then we did it. If anything goes real good, then you did it. That's all it takes to get people to win football games." The best managers are like the little boy on a large horse who waits to see where the horse wants to go so he can take him there. There is a memorable moment in Franklin Schaffner's 1970 motion picture Patton when George C. Scott as the general says: "Now an army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap. The bilious bastards who wrote that stuff about individuality for the Saturday Evening Post don't know any more about real battle than they do about fornicating." Lester C. Thurow, professor of management and economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management, has a more scholarly criticism of America's myopic love for heroes: "Teams were important in America's history -- wagon trains conquered the West, men working together on the assembly line in American industry conquered the world, a successful national strategy and a lot of teamwork put an American on the moon first. But American mythology extols only the individual -- the Lone Ranger or Rambo. In America, the halls of fame exist for almost every conceivable activity, but nowhere do Americans raise monuments in praise of teamwork." Philip Caldwell, former chairman of Ford Motor Co., had it right when he said, "The important thing to recognize is that it takes a team, and a team ought to get the credit. Successes have many fathers -- failures have none." Sal F. Marino is chairman emeritus of Penton Media Inc., an IW contributing editor, and the author of the recently published book Management Rhymes and Reason. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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