If you spoke with anyone who worked on a group project with me in school or you asked a member of any number of bible studies I’ve lead they’ll tell you that I have ‘a lot of leadership in me’. Get me excited about a program with one person in it and by the end of the week I’ll be there with 25 of my friends who invited 25 more. I’m basically contagious. I remember one of my leaders in high school youth group pointing out to me that if you’re the person people look too this can be a great quality or it can go terribly wrong. That was the first moment I realized the importance of leading well.
I do have some leader in me, for sure. I am, however, a surprisingly good follower. I will follow you around like a golden retriever and probably bite the hand of anyone who comes at you wrong if you have one quality: I need to know you’d do it for me. The irony of being a football coaches kid and saying I’m a ‘team player’ is not lost on me but it really is the best description. I’ll fill whichever role on the team needs filling but you have to show me a worthy team.
You can even ask my family. A few years ago we had a big discussion about visits and getting together and I said ‘I’ll make the trip 90% of the time but I want the other 10%. Come see me. Be a part of my life here. They did. I do.
This morning as I was doing my crack-of-dawn reading in a book called ‘Leaders Eat Last’ by Simon Sinek (you may know him from Start with Why) I could not stop rereading this quote (it is talking about why the military is so successful compared to so many organizations who never have that same sense of camaraderie) : ‘The will to succeed and the desire to do things that advance the interests of the organization aren’t just motivated by recognition from above; they are integral to a culture of sacrifice and service, in which protection comes from all levels of the organization’.
As with all truly great life lessons it reminds me of my favorite movie, Remember the Titans. If you’ve seen the movie there is a part where the captain is yelling at one of his teammates, telling him how to fill his role. The player responds, ‘You want me to wear myself out for the team? What team?!’. He goes on to say that for as long as even the captain is looking out for himself, he’s going to do the same. And he says a line that had to have landed like a sucker punch: attitude reflects leadership, captain.
Not long ago I was approached by a man in my Toastmasters group who asked me if I would join a committee. I looked up from gathering my papers to leave with a bit of confusion on my face, I’m sure. He said ‘the first half of my career I worked for someone who would do anything to help me succeed. I succeeded. It was great. Now, I’ve lost that. I’m trying to put together a group of people who will help me reach my goals and who will encourage me and cheer me on. I need that. Will you be part of it’. Yes. Always yes.
Over lunch with a friend/mentor recently we were having the conversation about my job and I realized I have what my Toastmasters friend wants: I get to be part of a team. In Leaders Eat Last the fighter pilot whose story opens the book says after his courageous act saved all 22 of his ‘teammates’ on the ground, ‘Because they would have done it for me’. Truly I believe that’s what we all want. We want a boss and a department of people who would do it for us. If you’re lucky enough to find it, it will change the way you work.
Work ethic is a quality my parents really tried to instill in my sisters and I. They taught us to work hard. They taught us to be women of integrity. Those lessons have stuck, I like to think, but if I’m being honest they were magnified for me when my boss was there to build that culture of ‘service and sacrifice’. When he went to bat for me without my even knowing about it. In fact, he’s done that several times. It’s how I first got a job working for him. And it set the tone for what has continued to be a team I want to be part of. I trust him to fill whatever spot on the field he needs to and it has maximized that team player mentality in me. It has given me the ‘put me in coach’ feeling about my job.
If you haven’t seen my favorite movie, you should. Towards the end of the movie they are playing a game in which everyone is trying to get them to lose. In the movie this is because the coach is black and they have only recently integrated the school. The coach has been told if he loses, he’s fired. It becomes obvious that the referees are in on it. His coordinator, a white man who was formerly the head coach before they decided it needed to be a black man pulls his players aside. He points out the unfairness of the situation and then he tells his players they better play like a team.
‘Alright, now, I don’t want them to gain another yard. You blitz all night. If they cross the line of scrimmage I’m going to take every last one of you out. You make sure they remember forever the night they played the titans’.
You want people to wear themselves out for your team? Show them a team. Most of us have been on the good and the bad end of ‘attitude reflects leadership’ and we know the truth of that. Maximize that.