In many ways, an individual’s capacity to be a good teammate is directly proportional to his or her ability to define loyalty.

I used to think loyalty was about being a good follower. I thought it was about finding someone or something you believed in and then settling into a supportive role.

But that’s not real loyalty. That is the kind of loyalty that disappears the moment you realize that you are not following the right person, or that your loyalty is not being reciprocated. It’s not the kind of loyalty that leads to an individual being a good teammate.

When I think of what it means to be loyal, I now think about Mama’s bowling night. Let me explain.

Several years ago, I worked with someone who loved to go bowling. She was an extremely kind and friendly person. Everybody in the office loved her. In fact, the closest thing she had to an actual flaw was her unusual obsession with bowling.

Every Wednesday, she participated in a competitive bowling league. She unapologetically planned her life around that league. It got to the point that she even avoided doing things like typing on her keyboard on Wednesday afternoons, so her wrist could be “rested” for bowling later that night.

At the time, this woman had an incredibly cute, preschool-aged daughter, who understood her mother’s bowling obsession better than anyone.

One day I asked the daughter if she was going to come to my team’s next game, which happened to be on a Wednesday night. Her response was priceless and made everyone laugh:

“I can’t. It’s Mama’s bowling night.”

Her response became a running joke, with me attempting to up the ante every time I saw her. I would offer to take her for ice cream if she came to the game.

“I can’t. It’s Mama’s bowling night.”

I would offer to take her to Chuck E. Cheese’s if she came to the game. Same response.

“I can’t. It’s Mama’s bowling night.”

I even offered—tongue in cheek—to take her to Disney World if she came to the game. But she always gave the same response.

“I can’t. It’s Mama’s bowling night.”

Her mother loved bowling and it was very clear that family decisions revolved around Mama’s bowling night.

Eventually, the woman moved onto a different department and we no longer crossed paths on a daily basis. One afternoon, though, I happened to bump into her and I asked her how bowling was going.

She told me she didn’t go bowling anymore. She had given it up.

I was shocked by her reply! I could not imagine her ever willingly giving up on bowling.

She went on to tell me how her daughter—now a fourth grader—was struggling in math. Her daughter’s teacher gave the class a math test every Thursday. They had to pass the test, or they didn’t get the reward of extra recess on Friday with the other kids.

Instead of going bowling, the women now spent Wednesday nights tirelessly giving practice math problems to her daughter.

This woman was able to do what, sadly, many people are not: Prioritize their teams. She loved going bowling and having fun with her bowling teammates. But she made a commitment to her other team too—her family. In this case, her commitment to her daughter’s education was more important than her love for bowling.

Being loyal is primarily about prioritizing your teams and honoring your commitments. It’s about making the necessary sacrifices to keep your commitments.

Ideally, loyalty is reciprocated…but there is no guarantee that it will be. Good teammates make a commitment and a choice to be loyal to their commitment. They do it because they care about their team, not because of some benefit that may or may not be returned in their favor. The reciprocation is not important to them. The commitment is.

By prioritizing your teams, you allow yourself clarity when you have to make difficult decisions.

The next time you find yourself in a situation where you need to make a choice, prioritize teams and be loyal to your commitment. And…think about Mama’s bowling night.

Remember: Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.

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