rowingNothing of real significant value can be accomplished by a single person.  I love John Maxwell’s assertion that “one is too small a number to achieve greatness.”

No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to find one example of genuine achievement that was performed by a lone human being.  There was always a team involved.

Leadership certainly requires individual & innovative risk taking; but without teamwork true greatness will never be realized.

I’ve gleaned many a lesson on teamwork from my prior experiences with the Marine Corps, aviation, and in business. My greatest and most memorable lesson in teamwork, however, came from being a member of a collegiate rowing team.

Rowing is the ultimate teamwork sport. All team sports have similar traits and characteristics that can be applied to everyday life and business; but the rowing aspects of teamwork are exponentially magnified.  Technically everyone and everything has to be exact; the height of everyone’s arms & hands, the rate everyone slides up the rails, the timing of when the oars hit the water.

From a mental and practical aspect there are no individual stars in rowing; there is no place to hide. If you don’t pull your weight everyone instantly knows it.  Because of this implied “peer-pressure” aspect there’s an unusually high requirement of mental and physical endurance .  It literally takes months of practice for the same eight-crew members to achieve the same sense of self, rhythm, & consistency.

When a crew finally does achieve this synchronicity, after weeks of incessant training, an astonishing wave of power takes over the boat.  What had previously been strained and difficult (and seemingly normal) all of a sudden becomes easy and poetic. It’s as if all of the previous egos, naivety, and insecurity of eight individuals is finally squashed, everyone becomes in tune with each other, and you feel as if all the power in the world is coming through your oar. Ultimate teamwork nirvana is realized.

Rowing set the stage and expectations for me early on what the true benefits of teamwork are, and what can be achieved through it.  It takes a team to do anything of lasting value.

I love Chuck Swindoll’s essay The Finishing Touch that sums up the importance of teamwork:

Nobody is a whole team…We need each other.  You need someone and someone needs you.  Isolated islands we’re not.  To make this thing called life work, we gotta lean and support.  And relate and respond.  And give and take.  And confess and forgive.  And reach out and embrace and rely…Since none of us is a whole, independent, self-sufficient, super-capable, all-powerful hotshot, let’s quit acting like we are.  Life’s lonely enough without our playing that silly role.  The game is over.  Let’s link up.

In this day & age of the where it seems the culture puts tremendous value and hope in the narcissist self-important leader; let’s have the courage to take a step back, become a lot more humble, and understand the true value of teamwork.

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