Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Leadership (not so) Secret

I just finished another season of helping to coach Little League.  This summer will bring another season of flag football and in a few short months, I'll begin my 6th season of coaching Y basketball.  I enjoy coaching.  I appreciate my fellow coaches who've worked hard to develop character and sportsmanship beyond the game in the kids we've led.  It's been interesting (and gut-wrenching at times) to watch the personalities and leadership of the kids evolve through each season.  Often, these characteristics closely mirror that of the parents.  At times, there is a great desire in these kids to position themselves to be the best - loudly proclaiming their superiority to the world.  This is beyond a competitive spirit.  Healthy competition is a good thing, developing perseverance, resilience, and discipline.  However, some kids ruthlessly claw to the top of the heap, yearning for their tribe to proclaim them king.  They're longing to be the pound-your-chest athlete with faux charisma spilling and splattering about.  They shove their team and the spirit of the game aside as they make their way down the red carpet to be anointed with athletic notoriety.  The world tells them this is the way, to be known you must be noticed.  And to be noticed you must be loud.  It's Lebron making a highlight reel block and not following this team on the break, instead standing flexed facing the crowd demanding ovation.

click for larger image

We feed this frenzy of proclaimed invisibility.  Even when we know it's a ruse.  Yet, it doesn't translate to the real world.  Stephen Covey, Jim Collins, Andy Stanley, and Jesus Christ all say the same - the common characteristic among the best leaders isn't manufactured charisma, but rather a deep rootedness in humility.  Jesus said as much in one of his most famous sermons, “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought." (Matt 5:5, as paraphrased in The Message).  Covey and Collins confirmed this in their study of successful companies and leaders.  The confidence and courage exhibited by great leaders comes from a strong sense of identity and purpose, showered in humility.  This is humility with ambition, not a passive resignation.  St. Augustine went further to say that without humility, we're a thin mask.  "Humility is the foundation of all other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except mere appearance."    
click to watch TED talk

Susan Cain offered a tremendous TED Talk on the power of introverts.  In it, she tell the story of her grandfather, a humble unassuming man that she always thought had little impact in the world due to his many hours spent alone, reading.  However, when he passed away, she was staggered by the funeral procession with many people lined up around the block to pay homage to this influential man.  Leadership begins beneath the surface, in the depths of our souls.  Power forced through overbearing charisma isn't leadership, it's control.  Influence developed through mutual respect, trust, and grace that leads to transformational change is leadership.  

Floyd "Money" Mayweather and 50 Cent

While we watch in awe at the chest-thumping highlight reels on Sportcenter's Top 10, our respect and admiration goes to those who excel in both athletic prowess and humility.  The talented Floyd Mayweather yips and yaps to many pay per view buys, but fails to gain the widespread respect of the masses because he seems void of humility.  We root for Manny Pacquiao to topple Mayweather in a fight that may never occur, because Manny is Manny - he's like us, or at least like who we want to be - a man who goes to work everyday with a sense of identity, purpose, passion, and humility. He doesn't need the world to tell him he's great.  It's why we want Tim Duncan and the Spurs to win the NBA title (I believe I'm in the majority here).  Duncan's Hall of Fame career is well stated without his words - his game speaks for itself.  Many NBA All-Stars have a prideful collection of rip-the-jersey-from-their-chest highlights, Tim Duncan quietly has four rings with another coming soon.

Tim Duncan

As another season of coaching ends, I think about the great group of kids that we've had on our teams.  Supporting the theories of Jesus, Augustine, Covey, Cain, Collins, and Stanley, the best leaders on these teams weren't necessarily the kids who talked the loudest or ran the fastest or hit the furthest.  The best leaders were the ones that were ambitiously humble -  practicing hard, enjoying the game, leading through encouragement, and always filling others buckets.

I want to teach my kids and the kids who cross my path in sports, life, or my work at the Y the same.  Be strong in grace, lead through earned authority, and always remember the words of C.S. Lewis, "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less." 

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