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4 Signs of a Dependable Team Member

In 1995, Christopher Reeve had it all.

He was married to his best friend, Dana. He had three wonderful children. And his family enjoyed a house and estate in beautiful Westchester County, New York. It seemed that he could do anything he put his mind to. He was an accomplished pianist who had composed classical music. He was an avid outdoorsman and a superb athlete: an expert sailor, a licensed pilot, an excellent skier, a scuba diver, and a horseman. And of course he experienced great success in his acting career.

As a teenager, he had decided to pursue a career in show business, and by age sixteen, he had an agent. He attended Cornell University and the Juilliard School, learned his craft, and began getting work as a professional actor. At the 1979 Academy Awards, John Wayne turned to Cary Grant and said of Reeve, “This is our new man. He’s taking over [for us].”

Aided not only by his acting skills but also by his good looks and imposing physique at six feet four inches tall, he became a star. In 1995, at age forty-two, Reeve had performed in seventeen feature films (including the blockbuster Superman), a dozen movies for television, and about 150 plays. He was financially secure and had achieved critical acclaim.

But then his life was turned upside down.

On May 27, 1995, during the cross-country portion of a riding competition, Christopher Reeve was thrown from his horse, Buck. He crashed headfirst into the fence his horse refused to jump and then fell to the ground. He sustained an injury to his spine at the first and second vertebrae, and his breathing stopped. He was paralyzed from the neck down. If the paramedics hadn’t arrived in minutes, he would not have lived.

Reeve has no memory of the fall. He remembers the time he spent in the stables a few minutes before his ride. The next thing he remembers is waking up a few days later in the intensive care unit of the University of Virginia. During those few intense days, doctors kept him alive with a respirator, stabilized him, and literally reattached his head to his spine surgically. The damage Reeve had sustained is sometimes called the hangman’s injury. Reeve later quipped, “It was as if I’d been hanged, cut down and sent to rehab.”

He was given a 50 percent chance of surviving. A serious spinal cord injury is difficult for any person to survive, emotionally as well as physically. An injury that leaves you helpless must be unfathomably devastating. But in the hours after he first woke up, he began to understand the real importance of a team. “When they told me what my condition was, I felt that I was no longer a human being,” he recalls. “Then Dana came into my room and knelt down to the level of my bed. We made eye contact. I said, ‘Maybe this isn’t worth it. Maybe I should just check out.’ And she was crying, and she said, ‘But you’re still you, and I love you.’ And that saved my life.”

Before the accident, Christopher and Dana Reeve had a good quality marriage. But in the years since then, they have developed an even stronger partnership. Chris, Dana, and their son, Will, function as the core of that team, but they have also developed a wonderful larger team around them, consisting of an army of medical professionals. Some assist Chris with rigorous physical therapy, exercise, and respiratory therapy. Others feed, clothe, and bathe him, as well as help with other personal needs. Someone has to turn him over hourly each night as he sleeps. And he sees numerous specialists on a regular basis.

At first, the people around him simply kept him alive. But now they work to keep him healthy. “What you begin to say to yourself, instead of ‘What life do I have?’ is ‘What life can I build?’ And the answer, surprisingly, is, ‘More than you think.’” Reeve hoped to walk again someday. He never did.

But he understood his need for dependable people on his team. “If all the people who are around to help me were mad at me or in a lousy mood or whatever, and they went away,” he observed, “there’d be nothing I could do about it. Absolutely nothing . . . It all comes down to goodwill. Nobody has to do any of those things; I’m completely dependent on them.” That’s the way it is on every team, whether we can see it as clearly as Reeve did. Teammates must be able to depend on one another.

4 Signs You’re a Dependable Co-worker

Dependability may not always be a matter of life and death, as it is for Christopher Reeve, but it is certainly important to every dependable team’s success. You know it when you have people on your team upon whom you cannot depend. Everyone on the team knows it. Likewise, you know the ones you can depend on. Allow me to note what I consider to be the essence of dependability:

  1. Pure Motives

Aristotle believed that “all we do is done with an eye to something else.” Evidently he believed that you can’t trust anyone’s motives. I don’t agree with that. Most of the time I give people the benefit of the doubt. I try to keep my motives right, and I encourage my teammates to do likewise. However, if someone on the team continually puts himself and his agenda ahead of what’s best for the team, he has proven himself to be undependable. When it comes to teamwork, motives matter.

  1. Responsibility

Another quality of a dependable team player is a strong sense of responsibility. New York Times best-selling author and former editor Michael Korda emphasized, “In the final analysis, the one quality that all successful people have . . . is the ability to take on responsibility.” While motivation addresses why people are dependable, responsibility indicates that they want to be dependable. That desire is described effectively by poet Edward Everett Hale, who wrote, I am only one, But still I am one. I cannot do everything But still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. Dependable team members possess the desire to do the things that they are capable of doing.

  1. Sound Thinking

Gene Marine, the editor of the Bellefontaine Examiner, once sent a new sports reporter to cover an important game, but when the young man returned, he didn’t have a story. Marine asked why, and the reporter replied simply, “No game.” “No game? What happened?” asked Marine. “The stadium collapsed,” responded the reporter. “Then where is the story on the stadium collapse?” asked the editor. “That wasn’t my assignment, sir,” answered the reporter. The potential for a news scoop went right down the tubes because of the young man’s inability to think well. Dependability means more than just wanting to take responsibility. That desire must also be coupled with good judgment to be of real value to the team.

  1. Consistent Contribution

The final quality of a dependable team player is consistency. If you can’t depend on teammates all the time, then you can’t really depend on them any of the time. Consistency takes more than talent. It takes a depth of character that enables people to follow through—no matter how tired, distracted, or overwhelmed they are. As Britain’s eloquent and steadfast prime minister of the last century, Winston Churchill, said, “It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.”

How to Become a More Dependable Teammate

Are your teammates able to depend on you? Can they trust your motives? Do you make good decisions that others can rely on? And do you perform consistently, even when you don’t feel like it? Are you a go-to player, or do your teammates work around you when crunch time comes?

To improve your dependability . . .

  • Check your motives. If you haven’t committed goals to paper before, stop and do it before reading any farther. Now, look at those goals. How many of them benefit the teams you’re part of—your family, the organization you work for, your fellow volunteers, the other players on your ball team? How many benefit only you personally? Spend some time working to align your personal priorities with those of your team.

  • Discover what your word is worth. Approach five teammates with this question: “When I say that I intend to do something, how reliable am I? Rate me on a scale of one to ten.” Include a superior and a subordinate in your survey, if possible. If the answers you get don’t match your expectations, don’t defend yourself. Simply ask for examples in a nonthreatening way. If the average answer is lower than a nine or ten, then start writing down your commitments as you make them from that day forward, and track your follow-through for one month.

  • Find someone to hold you accountable. You are more likely to follow through and develop dependability if you have a partner to help you. Find someone you respect to help you keep your commitments.

Final Take-Away

In the mid-1800s during an economic depression, many state governments in the United States began to panic and started looking for solutions to their financial hardships. Pennsylvania, for example, simply declined to pay its debts in order to remain solvent, despite what many considered to be a relatively strong financial position. When the legislature of the state of Ohio considered following Pennsylvania’s example, Stephen Douglas, who eventually became a U.S. senator and ran unsuccessfully for president, resolved to try to prevent it. Unfortunately at the time he was deathly ill and restricted to his bed. But Douglas was determined. He had himself carried into the state legislature on a stretcher, and lying on his back, the “Little Giant,” as he was known, spoke out against the policy. Due to his efforts, the legislature decided not to default on its obligations; instead, it met them. After the difficult economic times were over, the state prospered. It has been speculated that one of the reasons was that the government’s dependability helped to set the stage for economic prosperity. Never underestimate the long-reaching benefits that being dependable can bring.

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John C. Maxwell

John C. Maxwell is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than 33 million books in fifty languages. He has been identified as the #1 leader in business and the most influential leadership expert in the world.

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