Thursday, January 21, 2010

Follow the Leader

"We're following the leader, the leader, the leader; we're following the leader wherever he may go."
There are many ways to learn how to lead; one can read histories or biographies of great leaders or perhaps by experience. The best way, however, is to watch others do it. I have had innumerable encounters with fantastic people displaying leadership in ways and types as varying as their individual personalities. Leadership can be and many times is found in unexpected places.

One leader who has influenced me, even in the years since I moved from under his direct influence, is the only man I have ever had the pride of calling "Coach." Coach Rockwood came into my life most in my junior year of high school when I joined Cross Country and became part of his team. I also took his semester class, "Sports Psychology." He was able to take leadership with him wherever he was--whether in the classroom or running across town.

I remember he was comfortable interacting with students; no one was ever afraid to approach him, and many students acted as if he was one of them. He was even more effective in that he could be a friend, but also the responsible teacher, coach, and leader. He inspired the cross country team, giving each of us as members a confidence boost while, at the same time, showing us where improvement could be made.

My favorite memory of my high school coach was the summer before my senior year, before I moved away from my hometown and on to new adventures. We had a "Cross Country Boot Camp." It was a week-long training camp intending to give us a taste of what we had in store for the coming year. All week we had speakers and athletic trainers and professionals of many sorts coming to speak to us about succeeding and accomplishing goals and not losing sight of our dreams. The topics of those lessons have been made fuzzy by the passing of time, but the result of their effect on me is something I will forever remember.

The end of this intense week was marked by a final run that would also set the beginning bar for all of our goals to be achieved in the next year. We were to run the mile as FAST and HARD as we possibly could, utilizing everything we had heard and learned and now believed. Previously, I was running an average 7-8 minute mile, and all I had in mind while the team was lining up was "under 7, please let it be under 7!" After hearing so many inspiring stories and thoughts, and after being told by my trusty coach that I could do ANYTHING, I truly believed I could do ANYTHING, my mind being the only limitation to overcome. The clock started. I ran harder than I ever had before, my heart and mind driving me forward. Life seemed to stand still, or speed by, I'm not sure which I felt more.

And then it was over.

Breathing heavily, heart pounding, legs and arms aching and weighing a million tons, muscles quivering, I waited to hear my time. Coach Rockwood came up and said, I remember distinctly, "Great job, BreeAnn. Six minutes, twenty-one seconds."

I about started crying. I had done it. And that man, my coach, had gotten me there. He had a vision, and as coach and leader of our team, his goal was to help each of us understand the great potential we each had. The things I learned from this man have, as I said previously, lasted beyond that day on the track.

In my interview with Coach Rockwood, I asked four questions, so I'll organize this blog accordingly.

What is leadership to you?

His response was "the ability to get other people to accomplish the vision you have," and service. Without service, a leader is not a leader; a leader cannot convince anyone to follow him if he does not serve them.

What are some of the attributes of a good leader?

Rockwood named several: a leader must be inspiring. He must be able to rouse passion and excitement in his followers, give them a sense of confidence, and make them believe the goal they share is within reach.

Another trait he mentioned was Vision. defines vision as: "something that is or has been seen; a mental image produced by the imagination." I particularly like the idea that vision and imagination go hand in hand by definition, and leadership requires both, I think. A leader must have a dream, or vision, and the brain is required to use some creative thinking to discover where a particular dream can or must lead. It is essential for a leader to know where he is going; he must have some idea of where he is taking his people. This reminds me of the quote: "There go my people; I must catch up with them, for I am their leader!" Because when a leader does not know where he is going, undeniably, someone else will take charge. If vision is lacking, there is no direction. Without direction, there is no leadership.

Integrity was the next crucial virtue, and it is easy to see why. A leader without virtue is like an umbrella without a handle. It's just a funny-looking, ineffective hat without its handle, and an absence of truthfulness and honor in a leader is just as insufficient. Look at Hitler; inarguably, he was a great leader. By great I mean remembered, but he is not remembered for his integrity or justice. Rather, he is thought of as a tyrant, his leadership was one bought with fear and greed and death. A leader of integrity will have a far more positive influence for change on the people he leads and many generations after, even if the display of his good character is only found in small things. Integrity is found in a name, like Honest Abe; it's found in a story, supposed to be myth, of a boy who confessed to chopping down a cherry tree. Even if the story isn't considered true, the important thing is that this story was told as an example of George Washington's integrity, something remembered by people all over the world. A truly great leader will be remembered as having integrity, not destroying it.

(At this point I must apologize to Coach Rockwood...he had another point, but I was unable to write it down at the time of the interview and I've forgotten. If you read this, coach, my apologies!)

Do you think the best leaders are those chosen by circumstance or those who step forward to fill a position?

This question was kind of interesting, and I wasn't sure of the response I was going to receive, but my coach didn't even hesitate. His response was an emphatic "Both." He reasoned that there have been and will continue to be great men and women, such as George Washington, who took a presidency by the helm and charged right in, justice and boldness arming a vision and purpose that refused to be challenged. At the same time, however, there are those who, by nature, are indeed leaders, but quieter. These individuals are not wielders of great broadswords, but, to maintain the analogy, hold more of a subtle bow-and-arrow. These leaders are often referred to as "shadow leaders." It may sound as if the people I have described are "hiding" or lacking courage. Not so. These people are just as valuable and strong as the man on the horse leading an army, but they are among the people, more so than most leaders holding a high position can be effectively. As long as they have vision, and they share that vision with integrity and inspiration, and in doing so serve the people they interact with, they are indeed a leader.

What are the biggest mistakes a leader can make?

Coach Rockwood expressly mentioned two things: one was indecisiveness. I can agree with this for sure, and I see it in my own life every day. It's not enough to have a vision if we lack the courage or confidence to take off into the great unknown and follow it. Success will never come if we never try--the surest way to fail is by getting stuck on making a decision, instead of acting with strength and surety of success. And if success doesn't come immediately, at least there will have been the experience to learn from, and if what you dream of is a good dream, acting as a road to growth and happiness, it will come true in time. Probably at a better time than you planned, and you will be able to meet it a better person.

The second mistake was lack of virtue. He was very strong on the point that virtue is power and righteousness. Without it, a leader is not strong. This is why Hitler, and others like him, ultimately failed. They were not virtuous leaders, relying on the strength and power of God to accomplish what they set out to do; those whose visions do not align with God's will ultimately fail, and will find themselves miserably misled in the end. Because Christ, God's son, is the best example of leader out there, if something we plan is not in harmony with his teachings, we will not be able to succeed. But when we are striving always to be virtuous, we will be given the strength and endurance, and POWER OF GOD to aid us in achieving our final goal.

Interviewing my coach was a great experience. I only wish I had been able to more accurately display his words here, but I think my explanations suffice. The most important thing I got out of my experiences with Coach Rockwood and the other leaders in my life is that I will get nowhere in my life without studying the leadership of others, especially and above all the lessons I can find in the life of my Savior, Jesus Christ. Now that's one leader I would be wise to never cease in following.

"And he sayeth unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."
~Matthew 4:19

No comments:

Post a Comment