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The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World's Greatest Teams Hardcover – May 16, 2017
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“Wildly entertaining and thought-provoking . . . makes you reexamine long-held beliefs about leadership and the glue that binds winning teams together.”—Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, Chicago Cubs
“If you care about leadership, talent development, or the art of competition, you need to read this immediately.”—Daniel Coyle, author of The Culture Code
“The insights in this book are tremendous.”—Bob Myers, general manager, Golden State Warriors
“An awesome book . . . I find myself relating a lot to its portrayal of the out-of the-norm leader.”—Carli Lloyd, co-captain, U.S. Soccer Women’s National Team
“A great read . . . Sam Walker used data and a systems approach to reach some original and unconventional conclusions about the kinds of leaders that foster enduring success. Most business and leadership books lapse into clichés. This one is fresh.”—Jeff Immelt, chairman and former CEO, General Electric
“I can’t tell you how much I loved The Captain Class. It identifies something many people who’ve been around successful teams have felt but were never able to articulate. It has deeply affected my thoughts around how we build our culture.”—Derek Falvey, chief baseball officer, Minnesota Twins
“The Captain Class really resonated with me. It will absolutely be part of my thought process as we continue to build our roster.”—Ryan Pace, general manager, Chicago Bears
“I’ve been involved with an undefeated high school team, an undefeated college team, and coached in two Super Bowls. The Captain Class made me think back to those teams. The captains were indeed characters with a bit of uniqueness and a certain grittiness.”—Pat Ruel, offensive line coach, Seattle Seahawks
“The best book I’ve read this year.”—Mike Dunlap, head basketball coach, Loyola Marymount University
“I couldn’t agree more with the premise of The Captain Class. Like the greatest athletic teams, every elite team and fighting unit I’ve seen in the military that has displayed consistent excellence over time has a leader like Sam Walker describes.”—Jason Armagost, U.S. Air Force brigadier general, commander of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar
“The most fabulous book on freakish sporting success and leadership traits commonly shared across the greatest teams of all time.”—Rich Buchanan, performance director, Swansea City FC (English Premier League)
“A stunning mix of research and narrative.”—Susan Cain, bestselling author of Quiet
“I’m not even a sports nut and I couldn't put it down.”—Dan Heath, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Made to Stick
“One of the most surprising, best-written—and fun—sports books published in recent years.”—Don Van Natta Jr., Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times bestselling author of First Off the Tee
About the Author
Sam Walker is The Wall Street Journal’s deputy editor for enterprise, the unit that oversees the paper’s in-depth page-one features and investigative reporting projects. A former reporter, columnist, and sports editor, Walker founded the Journal’s prizewinning daily sports coverage in 2009. He is the author of Fantasyland, a bestselling account of his attempt to win America’s top fantasy baseball expert competition (of which he is a two-time champion). Walker attended the University of Michigan. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.
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Truth be told, I feel like he succeeded in all of his missions but the important part is that he did not go down some well-trod paths. For that I am eternally grateful.
Part I of the book describes the process by which he takes all the successful sports teams, from many time periods, from almost all sports, and he applies various sieves to disqualify candidates so that he has a manageable number of candidates to analyze. This alone is a large job, and a contentious one that would involve just about every denizen of every sports bar and pub the world over. I won’t get into his process, needless to say it will be the start of many a conversation, and his reasoning and explanation should be read and thought over by the reader.
The author comes up with sixteen teams. Sixteen iconic teams that the author labeled as his Tier One teams; by the way, he helpfully lists the Tier One teams and the Tier two teams in the appendix of the book, i.e. those teams that barely missed being tier one. This appendix will be well thumbed in the future by this reader.
The next daunting task is to examine at all the teams and to come to a conclusion as what made these teams Tier one, what drove them to being so salient amongst the many, which factor defined the success of that team. This is yet another impossible task, one that will also be debated ad infinitum. Once again, the author does an admirable and thoughtful job of considering a large number of factors and then writing an erudite defense of his analysis. Again, this is argument fodder amongst the denizens of the bars and pubs as well as the denizens of board rooms, think tanks, B schools, and consulting firms.
His conclusion is that what drives the bus for these teams, are the captains of these teams, a throwback position in our entitlement society, a society that disdains hierarchy and a position that serves the greater good of the team. He explains why he moved past the mythical and iconoclastic belief in the coach, or the idolatry of the superstar athlete and settled on the water carrying captain. Again, I won’t repeat his arguments from the book because he does a much better job than I ever will, since he carried the water for the book and I think his argument, the way he phrased it, is important for the reader to absorb and consider.
Part II of the book lists seven qualities that the author feel are unique and defining for a Tier one captain. He describes in depth, using anecdotes and extensive interviews with those captains, the unique and critical qualities that make these men and women so very successful and so very unique. Each chapter is a cogent explanation of each quality that the author feels is crucial for the success of each of these captains.
Part III is the counterexample. The story of the Tier 2 captains, who had all the necessary qualities, except for that one critical quality which doomed them to Tier 2 rather than Tier 1, a cautionary tale.
The well-trod path that the author did not go down is the path of the ubiquitous and trite path of the vast majority of business books. This book could very easily have become a mish mash retelling of the same points and sold as a formulaic recipe for success. The bane of the modern day business world is this formulaic grinding out of uninteresting and useless tomes detailing simplistic recitations of some Powerpoint bullets.
Sam Walker has too much respect for the subject; more importantly, he appreciates the complexity and coupled nature of the successful captaincy. He has lain out what he feels is super salient about these captains and he is smart enough to not lead the reader to believe that the results of the great captain can be duplicated simplistically. He leaves it to us to try to put the facts together, to think about the ramifications of what we can do to develop those seven qualities, either for ourselves or as a coach or teacher for a student.
As I finished the book, I was actually hoping for some pithy summation for my convenience, but in the end, I was grateful that he avoided the clichéd business school content. Now I can think deeply and critically on his arguments.
To be fair, the author does reiterate the major points that he wanted to make at the end of each chapter, but it is a re-statement of the argument and not a how-to guide.
Whether you are a sports fan, a coach, a consultant, or anyone having to do with developing people into leaders, this is an excellent and challenging addition to your library.
this is not a book about sports, or solely for sports people.
To my immense surprise, I could not put this book down. It is phenomenally well-written, so well written in fact that I want to get a subscription to the WSJ so I can keep reading what this author writes. The amount of research, outlined by the author at the beginning of the book, is so staggering that I found myself compelled to find out what that amount of research could yield. Although the title of the book seems to give that away, there is so much more to learn than simply that.
The principles that unfold in each chapter are those that can be extended into so many areas of life and business for women and men alike, which on balance makes a whole lot of sense, but is not always in-your-face obvious. When I lamented to friends that I wasn't sure about my son wanting to play college sports, those who owned some very successful and prominent businesses wasted no time telling me that a resume with "team captain" of any sport on it automatically pushed that candidate to the top of the list of potential hires.
This book made the reasoning behind that crystal clear.
"The Captain Class" initially piqued my interest mostly because my son was captain of his high school and college lacrosse teams and I suppose I wanted to have more insight into what that position entailed than I had as a "sports mom" who went to the games, but had know idea what anyone out on the field was doing.
So that...and also because of the chapter on the Steelers which no self-respecting Pittsburgh-born person could pass up.
After reading this book, the idea of a team captain seems CRITICAL in the development of a great team. Great teams are led by elite team captains and knowing what to look for isn't always what you might think. Most team captains are picked based on popularity or seniority, but after reading this book the selection of our team captain will change dramatically.
As a coach, I learned a lot from this book but as a fan of the game, I found the stories and research fascinating. Very enjoyable read.