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Manager as a Team Captain
April 2024
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In our first edition, CEO as Coach, we delved into the strategies CEOs can employ to guide their teams to unlock their potential and reach higher levels of performance. In this edition, we will talk about managers as team captains.


Just as a captain is the heart and soul of a sports team, a manager serves as the linchpin of an organization. The team captain is a guide who inspires, motivates, models the way and empowers individuals to achieve collective goals. As we explore the concept of the manager as a team captain, I am reminded of one of my own experiences as a team captain of the Johns Hopkins University men’s varsity lacrosse team and how much I learned from that experience that stayed with me for the last 30 years.


Sports often leads the way for business in terms of trends and concepts. For example, sports championed integrating psychology into players, teams and coaches. Similarly, sports teams pioneered culture and engagement, etc. And sports also provides an, arguably, unrivaled crucible to grow leaders and managers.

A book I continue to go back to on the topic of managers is Gallup’s: It’s the Manager, where research shows that managers account for up to 70% of the variance in employee engagement. Managers (like team captains) are the ones that are with you in the locker room, during the play, and on the sidelines, guiding and supporting their team every step of the way. Just as a captain's leadership can make or break a team's performance on the field, a manager's influence can significantly impact employee engagement, productivity, and overall organizational outcomes. We know people are more likely to leave an organization if they do not feel supported, valued, or appreciated by their manager.

Let's dive in on how managers can embody the qualities of a team captain!

Provide clarity on the CEO’s (Coach’s) game plan

Every successful team needs a game plan, and the manager is the one who helps call the shots in game by clearly communicating the plan, defining the path to success, and uniting the team towards the common goal. Communication is key.

Try this: Start all meetings with the organization’s vision and mission and connect back to the strategic plan. Help the team understand how their role connects to and advances the organization's purpose. Ensure there are NO air gaps.


Adapt to the game

Adaptability is key - as a manager you need to be ready to pivot and adjust on the fly, responding to changes in the game, market, etc. As the great Silicon Valley executive coach, Bill Campbell, said: “Work the team, then the problem.” I love this quote as it emphasizes the importance of prioritizing the cohesion of the team before attempting to solve complex problems or tackle challenges.

Try this: Strengthen a growth mindset by being a learner, not a knower. Identify what you can control, influence, and let go. Remember, we are meant to do hard things.

Check out a recent episode from our Art & Science of Leadership Podcast to hear our conversation with Dr. Carly Hunt, a sports psychologist, on the art of being game ready and the psychology of game day itself.

Empower your players

Just as the team captain trusts their players to have their backs and deliver when it counts, a manager empowers their team, trusting in their talent and abilities to shine; side-by-side. Delegate tasks, grant autonomy, and provide the support and guidance needed for your players to thrive. Foster a team culture of trust and accountability that fuels the team's performance.


Try this: Change the narrative around ACCOUNTABILITY. Accountability is a care word. We hold our people accountable because we care.

Ignite the fire within

In the heat of the game, motivation is the fuel that propels the team forward, and the manager can serve as the spark that ignites the fire within. Instill the belief and confidence in your players abilities. With your support and infectious positive relational energy, you have the ability to unite your team towards a common goal and drive them to discretionary effort.

Try this: Make an intentional effort to KNOW about your people. Understand what motivates your people. Work with them to create the environment they need to excel.

Celebrate the wins

Like a team captain hoisting the championship trophy high, they recognize and applaud the hard work and dedication of their players, knowing that their success is a testament to the team's collective effort.

Try this: Recognize and appreciate your people along the way, both the big and small victories. Even the “silent heroes”. Tell them what you value about them, connect it back to the organizational purpose, make it regular, make it genuine, and make it personalized.


Across the thousands of leaders and teams the Steer team has worked with, we know people (more than ever) need to know they are cared for, clear on what is most important, and feel connected. So if nothing else, lead with CARE, CLARITY, AND CONNECTION. Be consistent and model the way as a team captain. Consistency is greatness.

In the game of modern businesses, the manager is the ultimate MVP, leading their team to victory with strategic plays, motivational leadership, and unwavering determination. Like a star player on the field, they inspire, empower, and unite their team, driving them to achieve greatness and celebrate success together. We know when teams work together towards a common goal, there is no limit to what they can achieve.

If you are a manager - let us embrace our roles as captains of our respective teams, and lead with courage, conviction, and unwavering determination.

If you are a CEO or executive - let us continue to recognize the value and impact of our managers on day to day performance so we are intentional about developing high performing managers.

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