I read a story on the internet the other day about a pastor who had just been assigned a new congregation, and before he actually introduced himself to the church goers, he wanted to get a gauge for what type of environment he was going into. He decided to dress himself as a homeless man and walk around the new church to see what kind of reaction he would get from the parishioners. The story tells of people ignoring him, church ushers asking him to sit in the back and people refusing to donate to him when asked to do so. The leaders of the church then introduced him as the new head pastor and he walked up front, surprising many people in attendance of course. Now whether this story is true or just fiction to prove a point, it does prove a very good point.
You never really know do you? It is hard to determine by looking at someone, what purpose they will serve, or how good at something they can be. You can’t tell by looking at someone if they are going to lead your team when losing by 14 points with 3 minutes left in the game. If a coach is doing their athletes justice, they will always know. They will know who can be that guy, in that situation. They will know who is going to step up and lead and who is going to be a better follower. When you practice football you present your players with situations. Every practice should present game like scenarios with different players in different roles so that it is not a surprise to you on a Friday night who the leader is going to be. When your players are conditioning at practice, and they are to the point of exhaustion, who is the player motivating their teammates to keep going, and who is the player complaining about having to do one more? When the chips hit the fan on game night, you won’t be surprised who is gathering the troops. Sometimes it is not that guy who is verbally motivating, sometimes it is a guy who just puts his head down and does one more without saying a word, or leading by example, but I will tell you who it’s not going to be on game night, it won’t be that kid complaining about doing one more.
One last point. While reading John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, I came across a great example of what a leader looks like. He writes about a young lady, not a very “impressive looking woman – just a little over five feet tall, in her late thirties, with dark brown weathered skin. She couldn’t read or write. The clothes she wore were coarse and worn. When she smiled, she revealed that her top two front teeth were missing.” Not exactly the picturesque leader right? When you read further into the book, you learn that same woman saved many lives in her time. She was followed by many people because they respected her. It did not matter what she looked like to those people, what mattered, was her actions. When you are around someone long enough you learn about them. You learn about how they will act in certain situations. You listen to the way they talk to people. You learn about them and if they gain your respect by their actions and words, you follow them. Do you know people who fit the bill? I am sure it didn’t happen over night right? It probably took several trials for you to put your trust in that leader. So practice with that same purpose. Give your athletes many opportunities to lead. Put them in situations time after time, and sit back and watch, and listen. You will be surprised what you find, because you truly never know what a leader looks like?
By the way, that woman Maxwell wrote about, Harriet Tubman who led hundreds of slaves to freedom in the mid 1800’s all because people trusted and respected her.