Dec 11, 2019
Sam Walker is The Wall Street Journal’s
deputy editor for
enterprise, the unit that
directs the paper’s in-depth page-one features and investigative
reporting projects. A former
reporter, sports columnist, and sports editor, Walker founded the
Journal’s prizewinning daily
sports coverage in 2009. For
this episode, he dives into his book, The
Captain Class -
a bold new theory of leadership drawn from the elite captains who
inspired their teams to achieve extraordinary success.
Named one of the best business books of the year by
CNBC, The New York Times, Forbes, strategy+business, The Globe and
Mail, and Sports Illustrated.
Now featuring analysis of the five-time Super Bowl
champion New England Patriots and their captain, Tom
The seventeen most dominant
teams in sports history had one thing in common: Each employed the
same type of captain—a singular leader with an unconventional set
of skills and tendencies. Drawing on original interviews with
athletes, general managers, coaches, and team-building experts, Sam
Walker identifies the seven core qualities of the Captain Class—from
extreme doggedness and emotional control to tactical aggression and
the courage to stand apart. Told through riveting accounts of
pressure-soaked moments in sports history, The Captain Class will
challenge assumptions of what inspired leadership looks
[3:05] Sam looked up to sports
teams and famous locker room speeches as a youth, but he found that
most teams do not run the way he thought.
[5:40] In his book, Sam looked
at teams who had sustained success over a number of years and
exhibited characteristics one wouldn’t expect.
[8:10] Sam researched his book
with certain assumptions about teams, but was pleasantly surprised.
He realized as he did more research, that he really had a lot to
learn about how leadership really works.
[10:25] Some of
the qualities and characteristics that team captains had
- Extreme doggedness and focus in
- Aggressive play that tests the limits of the rules
- A willingness to do thankless jobs in the shadows -
- A low-key, practical and democratic communication style -
They were boring people
- Motivates others with passionate nonverbal displays -
- Strong convictions and the courage to stand apart
- Ironclad emotional control
[15:40] The hardest lesson Sam
learned is that if you want to be a great leader, you have to be
okay with getting zero credit. Other people may be the face of the
company/team; other people may get the better promotions over you
and you have to be okay with that.
[20:05] There are two types of
aggression. There’s the kind of conflict that’s really personal and
it’s always toxic. If a leader engages, it will destroy the team.
There is also something called task conflict, which can get very
heated, but is never personal. It is always with the good of the
team in mind.
[25:10] When you put successful
people together and they’re all working towards a goal, it ends up
being a lot of fun, and it should be! They have a level of trust
with their teammates and a level of humility among the group that
allows them to not worry about the small stuff.
[28:15] A lot of people believe
Michael Jordan was a great leader. It was actually Bill Cartwright
who was the glue that held everyone together.
[30:35] We reward heroes, but
that is just an indicator that the team dynamic failed. We think
working late nights and making sacrifices is a good thing for the
company, but if it’s just one man pulling the cart, you’re not
succeeding as a leader.
[37:10] Leaders who are on great
teams and have seen sustained success are running 90 miles an hour,
foot on the gas, all the time. There is no such thing as a slow day
for these leaders.
[43:35] Sam challenges you to
think about all the managers you’ve had over the years and read
this book and re-rank them based on the qualities listed in his
team is so much more important than the individual.”
- “There are a million ways to win, but every
single team who had sustained success had the same
you really want to be a great team leader, you have to be
completely content that you’re not going to get the credit you
I be content if the team wins? Is that enough for me?”
leaders, were often in defensive roles, and were not the face of
the team or the first person you’d expect.”
if you don’t always do the right thing as a leader, just knowing
what you’re supposed to do is half the battle.”
- “Emotional control is a big one. These leaders had the
ability to be passionate and show emotion, and then shut it off
when it was no longer helpful.”
- “Tom Brady said, ‘It’s actually very simple. You do your job so
that everybody else can do theirs. That’s it. That’s the
- “It’s about putting the same amount of effort, whether you’re
winning big or losing badly. It’s about showing a consistent
approach to your work.”
The Captain Class: A New Theory
of Leadership, by Sam
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