The Three Characteristics of a Champion

My entire career has been soaked with sports and the various characteristics of what it takes to be a champion, both on and off the field. While there are numerous fibers to the championship cloak, there are three pieces that must be stitched together to achieve success in obtaining your collective goals as a group: Leadership, Relationship Architecture and Teamwork.  This triad may appear to be obvious, but they do not always work together harmoniously. I realize that’s a contradiction to the essence of their meaning and purpose, but quite often, the correct ingredients in the wrong proportions often spoil the stew. So it’s not only about the doctrine, it’s also about the approach.


There are many attributes to leadership, but I believe there are key aspects that must be taken into consideration for everything to come together. These two key components to being an effective leader will help frame things up for an organization or group:

1. A true leader must grasp every aspect of the conditions that surround her.

2. A true leader must possess the passion of his convictions.

As a leader, you may possess the qualities that everyone identifies with leadership such as charisma, vision, integrity, decisiveness, etc. However, without the above two pieces to provide the structure, leadership can become very attribute-segmented. Thus, having these and other leadership characteristics, in and of themselves, do not make for an effective leader. Leadership needs framework in order to move people toward a common goal. Winston Churchill said it so eloquently:

“The key to your impact as a leader is your own sincerity. Before you can inspire others with emotion, you must be swamped with it yourself. Before you can move their tears your own must flow – to convince them you must yourself believe.”

The Prime Minister nailed it because in order to believe, you must first know and understand. In order to capture the minds and hearts of those you lead, you have to have both credibility and conviction. Although these two key areas are imperative to frame things up, a leader cannot rely solely on the emotion of the position, but must also ensure these four executions:

1. Provide solutions everyone can understand.

2. Practice life situations. Run through scenarios repetitively in order to instill confidence in execution.

3. Control situations, not people.

4. Put folks in a position to win.

These four guidelines will make sure a leader is headed in the right direction and not caught up in his own “press clippings”. Eddie Andelman, a former mentor,  always pointed out that it’s a bad thing to buy into one’s own praise and “press clippings”. He felt that it often blurred the reality of the situation and inflated the ego of the person, taking the focus off the task at hand. He is so right, because once a leader starts subscribing to the flattery and accolades, it will be the beginning of the down turn; it becomes about the leader and not about the team and mission. Unfortunately, this happens quite often and leads to the demise of companies, teams, initiatives and campaigns.

All this is important, but it’s not where it ends in order to lead a group to success. If a leader cannot build relationships and move others to become Relationship Architects, the mission will fall short.

Relationship Architecture

I am a huge proponent of the effects of building relationships in order to generate revenue for a company. Businesses are built on consumer relationships, something we discuss in great depth in Winning the Customer. But building relationships is not only important for direct revenue,  it’s also imperative to form equity internally (which ultimately leads to success). In order to achieve as a group, the same principles that are executed to forge new business and maintain client loyalty are necessary internally to propel a group to work seamlessly together.

Relationship Architecture is imperative for all successful campaigns.  It’s important to note that relationship building has to be done in all directions: top to bottom, bottom to top, side-to-side, outgoing and incoming. Building relationships interlocks the group and provides the glue that will make everything about the plan stick together. If the individuals in the group believe that they are each a necessary part of the mission, then the ability to work as one will be much more fluid. In order to get to a position of trust amongst all participants, each member has to know what the other is all about and believe they are in the right role playing their part on a team.

Quite often leaders will state, “Don’t worry about her job, worry about your own,” and members of the group will say, “That’s not my job.” While these statements may be accurate, all members should know the roles and responsibilities of everyone else in the group. This knowledge will help transform the group into a team. The relationships that are built allow for a deeper understanding and acceptance of everyone’s piece of the puzzle. These relationships build a cohesiveness to the group that will give everyone the confidence to know that each aspect of the plan is in good hands. This breeds assurance in the direction of the plan and the mission. It also makes teamwork, in its purest form, obtainable.


Quite often, teamwork is believed to be folks helping other folks for a common good. While that is a noble thought, it does not entirely capture the concept of teamwork. First and foremost, being a member of a team and participating in teamwork means knowing your role and executing to your highest ability. If you are a person who strives to excel at everything you do, teamwork is impossible without the confidence in your team and leadership. Letting go of the aspects that surround you is part of what teamwork is all about. It is impossible to let go unless you believe you are surrounded by the right people. Even more so, when you do not believe in the group, your actions to “help matters” most likely will be detrimental to the cause. That is why extreme talent sometimes is overrated and does not fit in most team situations. The “talented” individual is overpowering a can derail the efforts of a team. This notion conflicts with how you would normally view the situation, thinking that adding skill and talent will make things better. However, the exceptional individual is typically just that, with “individual” being the key descriptor.

Winning, in any form, is reliant on the people you surround yourself with. The right team with all the right moving parts will always go further than an overall bad group with one shining star. In both sports and in business, you often see teams that “on paper” should win and achieve fail miserably because they do not have all the components to bring it all together. Real team players recognize that helping the team begins with not interfering with the roles of others on the team.

It is not easy to make all three characteristics gel. It takes hard work, patience, timing and a little bit of good fortune. However, when the three components of Leadership, Relationship Architecture, and Teamwork come together in harmony, that is when championships are won and success is realized.


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  1. Roy Atkinson says:

    Thank you for this. It’s a very wise take on the nature of working together. I especially like your four points for execution. Informative, thoughtful, and–best of all–useful for thinking about those around us and how we can work to champion each other..


    1. Lou Imbriano says:

      Thank you for the kind words and constant support Roy. Most people know what it takes, however quite often they do not take the steps to put it all together. Hopefully, my stumbles and experience can help others do better.

      Thank you again.

      My best,

  2. No. 1 & 3 of the executions are so important! People don’t follow what they don’t understand… or are unable to follow due to the situation or environment. Great post on leadership!

    1. Lou Imbriano says:

      Thank you Heidi.

      I appreciate you taking the time to stop by and comment.

      My best,

  3. Gary Jacobus says:

    Good stuff Lou! Thanks. Always great to be reminded of what it takes to be successful.

    1. Lou Imbriano says:

      Thank you Gary. I hope all is well.

  4. In the second to last paragraph your comment about how the right team will go further than a bad group with a shining star hits home hard with the Red Sox. Perhaps, the 2011 and 2012 teams had several shining stars but, arguably, both teams were bad groups. Yeah – you gotta have the horses but the last 2011 and 2012 Sox teams were bunch of talented individuals and look at the results. This only cements the great point you make about teamwork. Leadership Matters, Chemistry Matters, Caring about Achieving Matters and perhaps most important Attitude Matters. Great Article Lou – MPN

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