Don’t Be A Hero (Be A Leader)

By Chip Wilson

In the early days of building Westbeach, and then lululemon, I knew for certain that if I wasn’t the one sweeping the shop floor at the end of the day, my business was likely to fail. I believe it was largely that innate determination to be the “water boy” of my teams that helped pave the way for our collective success. Recently, I experienced this belief echoed back at me while reading Sam Walker’s excellent book, ‘The Captain Class: The Hidden Force that Creates the World’s Greatest Teams’.

Walker is founding editor of The Wall Street Journal’s sports section, and after exhaustive research, he developed a theory of leadership, based on elite sports captains who inspired their teams to achieve extraordinary success. What resonated for me is how he concludes that the best teams (The sixteen most dominant teams in sports history, to be precise) all had a captain who fit an unexpected mold; someone who was neither the best athlete nor top scorer on the team, nor the smoothest or most inspiring communicator. The captains of the world’s best sports teams seem to simply be the individuals who are willing to work harder than anyone else. They don’t need or even want to be the hero—they want to help their teammates become legendary, by ensuring the team is functioning as a whole at the highest level possible. They are consistently of service to their teammates, rather than their own egos. In my experience, business happens to function in the same way.

In my book, Little Black Stretchy Pants, I speak about how at lululemon we developed a template for staff to set out a ten-year vision for their lives. The goal section of this template was split between family, career, and health. The goal-setter set two goals each for family, career and health, all to be attained within three different periods of time: ten years, five years, and one year. The goals fed into and were aligned with their vision.

In this way, lululemon became a leadership development company disguised as an apparel brand. We were in the business of naming team captains.

In any team-based scenario, it takes an extraordinary CEO or team GM to have to ability to spot these authentic, hard working, egoless people—and have the foresight to name them Captain.