Tom Foreman | BIO
Reporter's Note: President Obama, like every president, began his time in office by assembling a team. But having a team, and playing with a team can be two different matters. For the next few days, my letters to the president will be about teamwork.
Dear Mr. President,
Being an avid basketball fan, you must have seen the collapse of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers as they were driven out of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics, whom many sportswriters still consider man-for-man far less talented. And no doubt, you've heard some analysts adding up the reasons for the failure: Bad shooting, good defense, too much aggression, too little aggression, lack of heart, lack of soul, tight Nikes, loose jerseys, yadda, yadda, yadda.
But do you want to know the real, core reason? I think it is precisely because they were LeBron AND the Cavs. Not simply the Cavs.
Much is made of the value of a Superhero on any team, whether in sports, politics, or business. But a Superhero, no matter the venue, has to be truly, outrageously, and reliably super under all sorts of circumstances to outplay even a moderately skilled, but truly coordinated team. Or to put it more succinctly: In most collaborative circumstances on most days, teams win.individuals do not.
I've thought of this a lot in the past few decades as we seem to have grown ever more enamored of the Gladiator approach in our country. Of course, it is thrilling to see the lone combatant stand up to the vastly superior forces and hammer them into retreat. Watching a great athlete like LeBron force his will on the court is enormously entertaining. And on any given day, against any given team, such overwhelming talent will produce victory. But when the other team stands up and plays like a team; sharing the burdens and the honors, encouraging each other through thick and thin, and picking away at the Superhero, most of the time the hero will fall.
Don't get me wrong. Certainly every team needs talent. You don't win much with a bunch of stumblers on your bench. But I'll put my money any day on a handful of solid team players over a single star no matter how gifted he may be.
It's not just that lone combatants can't reasonably be expected to shoulder the entire load; it is also that the focus on these Superheroes, I think, undermines the abilities of the rest of the team. Would you want to be the B player who takes a shot in the final seconds and loses the game? No. It is safer by far (even if you are open) to pass to the star (even if he is covered) and let him miss.
The Superhero cult that we have bought into, I think, has helped produce those wildly overpaid Wall Street Executives, power hungry political players, and of course more than one sports hero who you can see headed for a fall even as he or she is being hoisted up on that pillar. Worse, this trend, has made it harder for reasonable people in business, politics, or even society to speak up and warn their leaders about potential pitfalls, or to offer good ideas. Because, after all, what kind of Superhero needs advice from mere mortals?
A wise leader recognizes that he or she is there to guide the team; to draw the best out of everyone on the field; but not to singlehandedly BE the team. That leader sees hir or her own weaknesses, and finds strength in teammates. And that leader shares the glory; every moment of every game.
When I coached soccer, I told my players, "If you score a goal, your first duty is to find the person who passed the ball to you, and congratulate and thank her. Without that help, you would be nowhere."
As we try to grapple with many problems in our nation, and right our economy, and reunite across our many divides, I suspect that is a good starting point; for all of us to push the Superheroes aside for a bit, and refocus on the truly heroic and reliable power of "we."
More tomorrow. Call if you get a moment. And hey, if you can, check out my Building Up America special on CNN today at 3pm. Good fun! Speaking of teams, I'm going to be out at the Team America Rocketry Challenge in Virginia watching my daughter's team compete. You should come!
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with