A Time to Lead

I recently spent some time with a few of my high school teammates. Like most guys, we talked about the days we played ball together. As we talked, I recalled how many years we went without losing a football game. I played quarterback on a team that didn’t lose a game all the way through Jr. High School. Now don’t get overly impressed with anything I did. We were a running team back in those days. I couldn’t throw the ball more than 20 yards. We had some big nasty lineman and three running backs that were outstanding. My job was to make a read on the play and either keep the ball or get it to one of those running backs (they were really good). We kept that unbeaten streak going into our freshman season in high school and were well on our way to another undefeated season until one October night over in Bastrop, Louisiana.

We got into a battle that night with a team that was every bit as big, fast, and good as we were. We went back and forth with them scoring that night. They scored with just over two minutes to play to take lead. We got the ball after the kickoff deep in our own territory, with two timeouts, no hurry up offense (we ran plays in from the coach back in those days), and a quarterback that was not a passer. Now I always considered myself to be a leader. I set an example in drills every day in practice, I openly encouraged other players, and being the quarterback, I inherited a certain degree of leadership expectation that just came with the position. But going into that huddle, staring at ten guys that had never lost a game before, no coach to call the plays, no hurry-up offense, and those guys just looking for some direction, I think that was the first time in my life that I was ever really called upon to lead. There was no choice and no alternative. It was step up and do it, or concede defeat. The only thing I could think of was just tell them I would call the plays at the line and that we would go on first sound every play. Just run the play and go back to the same base option formation. It didn’t matter if the defense could hear or not, we had no choice.

So that’s what we did. We had to execute flawlessly. I had to make quick decisions on play calls at the line and keep us moving as fast as possible. Our backs did a great job of running and the lineman got set quickly and did their job too. Communication was essential to say the least. We moved the ball down inside the opponent’s 15 yard line with just under 10 seconds to go.

Now I share that to get you thinking about your impact on people every day. You see, everyone reading this message is responsible for other people to some degree, and in many cases, that comes with the position (like quarterback). You have likely considered yourself doing some leadership things from time to time. However, there comes a time when we are called upon to really lead. I mean really take charge of a situation, clarify the vision, set the direction, equip the people, communicate, and lead the “followers” to success. Is this your time?

We are at crossroads in many of our facilities today. We are getting too many people hurt. We aren’t making progress operationally in some places. We are struggling with quality in some places. We need volume in some places.

It’s that time for many of us. Time to be the leader, make the calls, communicate what needs to be done, move the team, and get us going in the right direction. It is time for leaders to lead.

A few things that I have learned over the years about leadership and likely learned that October evening:

1. No matter who they are, how well off they may appear, or how comfortable they may be, at some point, people need leadership. Maybe it’s in those times of crisis and uncertainty, or maybe it’s in just the normal course of the day, but people need leadership. I mentioned above that I probably was just going through the motions of leadership until that final drive. It sure became real then.

2. Leaders have to care about something other than themselves. You can care about the people you lead. You can care about the success of the organization. You just have to care about something beyond yourself to really lead. I sure cared about those guys in the huddle and the rest of that team. Guys from different backgrounds, different races, different economic situations, all made up that team. We had grown up together. I cared about winning too!

3. Leaders have to communicate clearly and concisely. We have to effectively communicate what needs to be accomplished, the method to get it done, status of progress along the way, and provide feedback throughout the process. I got a lesson by fire that night on communication skills.

4. Leaders take responsibility for everything but realize they can’t do everything. Leadership is about influencing others to get the best from the team collectively. Leaders can’t do everything that needs to be done no more than I could take that ball down the field and score on my own that night. Leadership is about getting the most out of the team for the team’s overall success. Leadership is bringing out the best from everyone involved.

We didn’t win that night. The other team intercepted a half-back pass on the final play. Looking back, I don’t know if I really thought that was the best play call or I just didn’t want the weight of having to complete a pass in the end zone on the final play resting on me. I haven’t forgotten that in all these years. I am not sure I took much responsibility on that last play. I finished my high school years playing receiver, and we did win our share of games, but not all of them. I wish I could go back and do some of those things over, but we can’t. What we can do is work on changing today.

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