Teaching Our Kids to be Hungry, Humble, and Smart


On a recent vacation sans kids (insert fist pump) I finally had a chance to catch up on my reading list. A book in my queue has been The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni. The core of the book is how to “recognize and cultivate the three essentials virtues” in your team: Hungry, Humble, and Smart. Thus, the ideal team player.

I work in Human Resources where staffing and employee issues are everyday occurrences. In hiring, it’s critical that companies find the right culture fit. The rest, like qualifications, experience, and abilities fall into place after the fact. Today’s workforce is complex; we have a new generation of kids coming in with very different standards than we had back in the day.

I got to thinking – how can I instill these virtues in my kids? How can I help my kids be an ideal team player in all aspects of their lives?

Let’s dive deeper:

Hungry: “Hungry” people are self-motivated and hardworking – they rarely need to be pushed. They want more: more to do, more to learn.

Humble: “Humble” people lack ego. They share credit, put others before themselves and look at things collectively versus individually. Lencioni quotes C. S Lewis: “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

Smart: Smart is “people smart” – common sense about people. They have good judgment and intuition. They understand the impact of their words and actions. Smart people have self-awareness and self-control.

By now, I can imagine you’re thinking: that’s great, Mara. But my kid is four years old. I can worry about these things later. WAIT! These values can help your kid as they navigate school, friendships, relationships, their self esteem and confidence! So why wouldn’t we want to start working on them now?

Here’s how we’re practicing:


To get your kid hungry: motivate. All my four-year-old wants out of baseball is a trophy. “When will I get my troh-fee, momma?!” is a constant question as we head to his baseball games. My husband and I have used his trophy excitement to motivate him: “Buddy, if you go out on that field, pay attention, listen to your coach and have fun – there could be a trophy at the end of the season.”

Each game, we find something to sing his praises – did he listen to the coach? Did he run as fast as he could to first base? Did he have fun?! We use this conversation to instill some hunger in him and help him make that connection: work hard+have fun = trophy. As he gets older, we’ll alter the message so he will learn how his actions impacts others – if he doesn’t listen to his coach, that affects the other players and the outcome of the game for his team.


Self-awareness is an issue with our son, Cooper. He will physically barrel over someone without a backward glance – he’s just head down moving to his intended destination. “Cooper! Head up!” seems to be my never-ending mantra with him. My husband and I constantly work on getting him to be more aware: of others and their feelings, and his surroundings. “When you took that toy out of Beckett’s hand, he was sad. How do you feel when someone takes away something you’ve been playing with?” We want him to analyze his feelings and put himself in the others’ shoes. Note – we have this discussion calmly instead of being exasperated or mad. He’ll close up if he thinks he’s under attack.

Recently at baseball, Cooper ran into one of his teammates at home plate. They both went flying to the cringe of the crowd. Cooper got up, dusted himself off, and started to walk off while his teammate was still lying in the dirt. Just as I was about to shout my mantra, he turned around; went to his friend to help him up and gave him a hug. I was SO PROUD. This was huge; especially for Cooper.


We have this neat play area in our basement. I wish I could say it’s always nice and organized, but we know I’d be liar-liar-pants-on-fire. No matter who was down there last or who made the mess; we make sure all three boys clean up together.

You can develop humility in your kids by modeling it yourself. If I’ve been snappish or just no fun to be around, I’ll apologize to my kids. No “Mommy has a headache” excuse. I’ll tell them the truth – maybe I’m not feeling well or I’m sad about something at work. I’ll share it with them and then apologize for my behavior. This is twofold – it allows me to model how to genuinely apologize and for them to learn how to graciously receive and accept an apology.

With just a few minor tweaks, you can instill this “culture” in your family! Keep your eye out for displays of these virtues and praise away! Praise is wonderful in that it reinforces behavior not only for the individual but also for the whole family.

Check out the book here. It’s a quick and easy read packed full of great tools.  


  1. Mara I was very inspired by your blog! I found it very interesting and intuitive love how you shared your own life experiences about your family makes this hit home a lil more. Thanks for sharing.

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