Podcast #405: The Captain Class — The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams

What makes a great sports dynasty a great sports dynasty? We typically think it’s the result of amazing talent or coaching.

But my guest today argues that it all comes down to the often quiet, understated leadership of a team captain. His name is Sam Walker and he’s the author of the book The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams. Today on the show, Sam and I discuss his quest to uncover what makes great teams great and the unlikely answer he came up with. We then discuss the traits Sam found in the great team captains of sports history. Some of them you’d expect to see on a list about great leadership, including doggedness and humility, but a few of them, like the willingness to push the limits of the rules and engage in conflict with the players and the coach, might surprise you. Throughout the conversation, Sam shares insights on how leaders from all fields can apply these lessons in the teams they play on and work with. 

Show Highlights

  • How Sam went about compiling a data-centric list of history’s greatest sports teams 
  • How he whittled down 25,000 teams throughout history to the top 17 
  • Sussing out the defining factors of these successful teams 
  • What’s the difference between a coach and a team captain?
  • Why the Warriors are dominating the NBA right now 
  • How quickly do teams decline after the great captain departs?
  • The great team captains in history 
  • Why some of the best captains aren’t the best players or most well-known 
  • Why Michael Jordan wasn’t a very good captain/leader
  • What is doggedness? How is it different from talent?
  • The legendary story of rugby player Buck Shelford ripping open his scrotum
  • The phenomenon of social loafing
  • Why great team captains are always testing the limits of the rules
  • How a Cuban volleyball team used radically insensitive trash talk to win 
  • The two kinds of conflict that impact teams 
  • How great captains command from the back, and relieve superstars of the leadership burden 
  • Captains and speeches (or the lack thereof) 
  • Do team captains seek the job?

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Connect With the Sam Walker

Sam’s website 

Sam on Twitter

Sam’s Wall Street Journal column 

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