The Washington Capitals are off to their best start in team history. I’ve enjoyed watching the games on television with my nine-year-old son Jack, and he’s been thrilled with their performance after they flopped in the playoffs last year.

While watching a game the other night, he asked, “Why is the team playing so much better?”

Poor kid. Little did Jack know that I would use his question as an opportunity to translate something he understands – hockey – into something he does not: the lessons I tend to draw upon in my work helping public servants become exceptional leaders.

Jack listened intently as I talked about the leadership and teamwork lessons to be learned from the Caps this year, as well as from some other great sports teams. I may be fooling myself, but I think he liked the conversation.

What the Caps have been doing so well, and what other great sports teams in history have done, is operate as a seamless unit with everyone motivated on achieving the same outcome.

Here are some of lessons from sports that may help you as a federal manager to keep your team focused, engaged and performing at a high level.

· One team, one shared goal: The movie Miracle offers an entertaining history lesson about the improbable “Miracle on Ice.” Whether you’ve seen the game or the movie, you know the lesson: a bunch of kids from different colleges, some of them arch rivals, come together to represent the USA in the 1980 winter Olympics, beat an undefeated Soviet hockey team and win the gold medal. If our analogy were music instead of sports, we would call this singing from the same song sheet. As a federal leader, you need to define shared goals and ensure every member of your team is focused on those goals rather than on individual agendas.

· Practice like you play: If you want a prime example of discipline and consistent excellence, watch the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team. The team won a record 89 straight games over two-and-a-half years. Some of the keys to their success included endless drills designed to hone their already exceptional skills and practicing with five offensive players being guarded by seven defensive players. If your team is struggling to maintain its excellence, channel your inner coach and find the right way to motivate them to perform.

· Shared accountability: I’m no fan of New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, but I cannot argue with his leadership and results. I can vividly recall Brady providing what I’ll call “direct feedback” to one of his teammates after he failed to give it his all on the field. Brady is a locker room influence, a player who doesn’t wait for the coach to address performance problems. A high-performing, effective team has teammates who are willing to provide direct, respectful feedback to their peers in the interest of achieving the team’s goals.

· Do the little things to help your teammates: I know a lot of folks hate the Yankees, but nearly everyone respects their team captain, Derek Jeter. It’s not only his individual statistics that make him great, but it’s also that he makes his teammates better in the process. In 2001, Jeter made a play that’s now known simply as “the flip.” In short, he assisted with an out at home plate that assured a Yankee victory by assessing the situation, his teammates’ positions and quickly filling the void. In other words, the best team leaders use their individual strengths to compensate for the weaknesses of others. Are your team leaders willing to throw themselves into any situation to help the team? More importantly, are you?

Sadly, I cannot watch sports or any other group activity without seeing the leadership lessons worth applying to the federal workplace. Please share your thoughts about building a cohesive and effective team by adding a comment below, or by sending an email to me at

Government leaders, mark your calendars for November 16th! In just 2 weeks the Partnership for Public Service will be releasing its highly-anticipated 2011 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings. An important tool for federal leaders, the rankings are the most comprehensive and authoritative rating and analysis of employee satisfaction and commitment in the federal government. Agency leaders use the BPTW rankings in their recruitment and retention efforts, as well as to provide managers and leaders with a roadmap for boosting employee engagement. To learn more, visit

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