Tough Times Require Tough Leaders

I had the opportunity to be a part of four state championship teams in high school (one in football and three in baseball). That was obviously a great experience, but it was also a miserable experience at times.
Let me explain with a focus on baseball. Football is a topic for another time.

My sophomore year, I recall just being a nervous young kid playing second base that just didn’t want to mess up. Winning a state championship in Louisiana was a great accomplishment and not something my school had done in a very long time. We had a solid group of sophomores that played a key role that year.

My junior year was one that came with heightened expectations with the returning players we had, but not many teams ever repeated with the level of competition across the state. Winning that year was really exciting. Just think, 2 in a row!

That senior year was something else. Expectations across the town were incredibly high. Six returning senior starters that had been through prior state tournament runs led to some unbelievable expectations. Anything less than 3 in a row would be complete failure. That year should have been a great experience, and it was, at times. At other times it was just miserable. At times we were complacent, we had personnel issues, we had key people out for various reasons, we got our competitor’s best shot every game, and adversity seemed to be around every corner. In the end, we did win it and won in convincing fashion. I still remember that last out and just being relieved it was over. Wow, what a way to celebrate by just being relieved it was over!

Looking back at that last year, I was not nearly as impactful as I should and could have been. My leadership was not near where it should have been. I was so caught up in trying not lose, that I lost sight of my role and responsibilities as a leader. When I was needed the most, I was wrapped up in trying not to fail at meeting expectations that were too heavy at times to carry.

If you stop and reflect for just a minute, I bet those prior two paragraphs hit close to home for many of us even now in our current situations (forget the baseball example and focus on the issues). With that in mind, here’s just a brief summary of five keys to effective leadership that I have held fast to over the years that are relevant regardless of the situation or team being led:

1. Define the Purpose: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? Why am I here? What’s the Win? (think beyond what and think who also)
2. Narrow the Focus: What are the essential key things that we must be great at to have success? There may be a lot of things involved, but what’s the three to five essential things to really highlight and focus on?
3. Simplify the Process: Eliminate anything that is not essential and make things as straightforward as possible. The best strategy is sometimes what you don’t do! Simplicity should eliminate mistakes and lead to more effective execution.
4. Communicate Broadly: If you want people to buy in, tell them what’s important, how they are doing, and how they can help. Make it clear what’s in it for them. If you want to build engagement, just communicate effectively.
5. Build a culture: I would say a culture of engagement (care and discretionary effort) and accountability (responsibility for everything).

Those five broad topics are applicable for any organization, any team, or even any individual. If I ever wrote a book, those would be my five chapters.
In the midst of increasing expectations, adversity, or just plain tough times, those five topics will keep you grounded and focused as a leader, the kind of leader that people need in tough times.

By the way, I went back and watched my former high school team lose in the first round of the playoffs that following year. I can’t imagine how tough that year was on those guys. I wondered that day as I drove back to college had I failed them in some way. Maybe they were just relieved it was finally over.

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