A successful team is all about the depth and quality of its relationships. We tend to see team members through the lens of their role i.e “linebacker,” “point guard,” “marketing director,” “daughter.” When we view people through the lens of role, we miss out on a far more powerful – indeed more human – way of knowing someone. This has implications for families, sports teams, and businesses. It imbues the way we perceive people.

When I played lacrosse in college, our team practice field was about a mile from the locker room. Every day we’d walk or jog out to “Baker Campus.” It was the walk back that I remember most. I realize now those walks had a lot to do with not only the success of our team, but the depth of the bonds we formed, and that those two things are interdependent.

Walking home from Baker, sweaty and tired, helmets off, with our gear slung over our shoulders, our roles as players dissolved. As we walked the well kept tree lined neighborhood streets between Baker and the athletic center, we realized a deeper sense of ourselves and our relationship to one another not as players, but as people. While our conversations were without doubt not overly intellectual, they were meaningful. We built friendships literally one step at a time and realized at a very basic level, we were all very much the same. There’s something reassuring and timeless about that.

We care about those we know well. And we’re motivated to help those we care about. I know of plenty of coaches who don’t take the time to really get to know their players. These coaches just don’t have the same level of success as those who find ways to get to know their players on a human level. To cut to the chase here, when we open up our hearts to one another, magic happens. I tell coaches: “it’s easy, just love your players.” No matter how tough someone’s exterior seems to be, we all yearn to be understood. That goes for players, coaches, sons and daughters, cashiers, line cooks and hedge fund managers. It’s just our nature.

Great leaders understand this, creating ways to deepen relationships on their teams. My old coach modeled this, but more about him in another post. A simple exercise is to assign team members to each other and have them express why they appreciate the other person. Giving gratitude, receiving gratitude and being in the presence of this creates connection, deepens bonds and opens hearts. As a practice, try to recognize the person, before the role.

I’m thankful to have remained close with many of my teammates over these nearly 40 years since our college days ended. We’ve stuck together through good times and tough times, and we’ve lost a few along the way. We do what we can to pick each other up after we fall, and to support and encourage one another as we travel the road of life.

No doubt, the walk to Baker has something do with that.

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