Lin-sanity, The Kid, and the Value of Connectors

Jeremy Lin -- the "connector" -- celebrates with teammates and fans

Two of the biggest stories in the sports world in recent weeks have been the emergence of Jeremy Lin and the passing of Gary Carter.  Though unrelated, these two events have re-emphasized for me the value of “connectors” –  those people (in both sports and all organizations) who somehow “connect” the people and change the game (and the atmosphere) in  important ways.

“Lin-sanity”

Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks’ new point guard, has gone from an unknown reserve on a faltering team to literally a worldwide sensation in less than two weeks.  When the season began on Christmas Day, Lin was sleeping on his brother’s couch.  By Valentine’s Day, Lin – an undrafted free agent from Harvard, who had recently been cut by two teams and was hoping for a spot on a minor league roster when signed by the desperate Knicks – was serving as an inspirational role model for children around the world (he is one of the few NBA players of Taiwanese descent).

How did this happen? As a point guard, Lin’s job is to get the ball to his teammates in places and at times when they have the best chance of making plays and scoring.  Simply put, he “connects” his teammates – a skill that is vital for successful teams in sports as well as in business.  Add in his can-do spirit, the energy he brings onto the court, and his humility, and you have something very special in the works.  End result:  The Knicks have gone from an 8-15 record and sports writers openly betting on when the coach would be fired to a team focused on the playoffs (with some giddily speculating whether a championship run might even be possible for them).

“The Kid”

Gary Carter's ability to connect teammates led to a dramatic World Series victory in 1986

While post-steroid era baseball may not be “America’s Past-Time” in quite the same way it used to be, there’s no doubt that Gary Carter was an All-American sports hero.  A Hall of Fame, power-hitting catcher for 19 seasons, Carter’s position enabled him to serve as a “field general” behind the plate, and his upbeat personality and strong will to win enabled him to be a leader off the field.

In the many eulogies offered on his passing last week at the age of 57 from brain cancer, there was constant reference to the role Carter played as the “last piece of the puzzle” (literally, a “connector”) when he came to the New York Mets in 1985 – leading them to a World Series championship a year later. He was recognized as the glue that held a very talented but rowdy bunch together, from guiding a young pitching staff through rough spots with patience and care, to – determined not to make the final out – getting the hit that started the Mets’ miraculous game-winning rally in a contest known simply in New York sports lore as “Game Six.”  In short, he “connected” his teammates and helped the whole become so much more than the sum of the parts.

 Business: Connectors and Dis-Connectors

It strikes me that in thriving organizations of any size or scope (from 6-person departments to major divisions of global corporations), there is often a person (or persons) who serve as connectors – who through their skills, presence, and personality serve to bring the group together and help everyone “raise their game.”  Two examples (one positive, one negative):

  • Dysfunction — I once interviewed with the HR department of a division of a Fortune-500 company where – strikingly – there seemed to be absolutely no connection (business, emotional, or otherwise) between any member of the HR team … so much so that the word “team” could scarcely be used.  This extended to the HR VP – an otherwise affable and bright person who was proud to share that he had absolutely no idea what anyone on his team was doing at any point in time (no joke!).  Boy, did that team need a “connector”!
  • Connection — I currently work with a colleague who is absolutely, intuitively brilliant in her ability to bring people together.  With very little fanfare and no one really noticing until after the fact, she regularly brings teammates into her projects in ways in which they can add the most value, expand their contacts, serve the client’s best interests, and play to their strengths – win/win scenarios, to say the least.  (In basketball parlance, she gets people the ball in positions where they can score).  She is a true “connector,” and the team – and the organization — is truly strengthened for it.

Implications

In hiring for, coaching, and developing teams at all levels of our organizations, it seems to me that “connectors” are vital for success.  What are your thoughts?

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