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A great leader is not what we think- an excellent read ‘The Captain Class’ by Sam Walker

By Mehedi Shamim | 20 May, 2024

A great leader is not what we think- an excellent read ‘The Captain Class’ by Sam Walker

A great leader is not what we think- an excellent read ‘The Captain Class’ by Sam Walker


During my first Europe trip in April 2024, I carried the book 'The Captain Class' by Sam Walker with me. As I traveled from one destination to another, I immersed myself in this fascinating read. While our primary football passion lies with European football, we enjoy watching Brazil-Argentina matches. This journey intertwined Europe's charm with the rich history of football strategy. The book reshaped my views on leadership. Author Sam Walker aptly mentioned, "One of the great paradoxes of management is that the people who pursue leadership positions most ardently are often the wrong person for the job." This statement holds true across various fields, from government to business to sports. Some readers may have experienced this phenomenon before delving into this book, but Walker's insights shed light on this aspect. This book lays a solid foundation for reconsidering and refining one's leadership perspectives.


The leader, as explained throughout the book, can be summarized with this one statement from Sam, ‘As a writer, the best analogy I can think of is that captains are like the verb in a sentence. The verb may not be as memorable as the nouns, as evocative as the adjectives, or as expressive as the punctuation. But the verb is the force that does the yeoman’s work – unifying the disparate parts and creating the forward momentum. In the closed unit of a great sentence, It’s the only essential component.’ (p. 265).


The main point is that the team captain is the most crucial factor, not the player quality or the coach. This book demonstrates the incredible impact of one individual on a team - The 'water carrier,' the unwavering captain who never gives up. Here are six insights I gained about the captain from the book:  


1. Good captains help players perform their best, even at the professional level, by finding ways to bring out their full potential.

2. They understand the unique motivations of each team member and take steps to inspire and motivate them individually.

3. Great captains put in the hard work and earn the right to push others to their limits, demonstrating true leadership.

4. Their focus is not on personal fame or glory but on the success of the team.

5. Great captains lead from the back, not seeking the spotlight for themselves.

6. They demonstrate relentless determination and never give up.  


True leadership isn't about just giving motivational speeches, looking good, or being popular. It's about doing the hard, unglamorous work that's necessary to make your team successful. Great leaders are willing to do the behind-the-scenes work that is crucial for their team's progress.


When people collaborate in groups, they often tend to exert less effort compared to working individually because individual efforts blend in with the group. The best remedy for this is observing someone in the group giving their all without holding back. This individual embodies the exceptional leadership style described by Walker: someone who gives their best effort consistently, both during games and practices, on and off the field. This strong work ethic is infectious and has the power to inspire an entire team towards achieving greatness.  


In the end, I was surprised to find out that the world's most exceptional sports teams didn't share many common traits; they shared just one. While it's based on sports, the book chiefly focuses on one idea – the belief that the most vital element in a supremely successful and enduring team is the character of its leader.  


The world of sports is too unpredictable for a simple solution like ‘do this one thing and you'll succeed.’ This applies not just to sports, but also to any complex, competitive system. If there was truly ‘one thing’ that worked, everyone would catch on, and it wouldn't work anymore – be it in the share market or in sports. It's always a combination of factors that leads to success, including leadership, coaches, star players, team owners, budget, fans, opponents, strategy, and luck. While Walker tries to challenge these alternative views, personally I didn't find his argument convincing that the kind of leadership he describes is essential or more important than other possibilities.  Apart from that, it was truly an excellent read.


I have come to realize that one book isn't usually enough to fully understand a topic. It often takes more than one source to get the whole picture. It requires a library of knowledge and extensive reading to truly understand various subjects and obstacles. However, if you seek to enhance your team-building skills, prioritize adding this book to your reading list. It's a valuable resource to have at the top of your stack.  


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