Next in our series, 7 Traits of A Great Leader, we look at a great leader as an athlete.
“An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”
2 Tim 2:5
What in the world does being an athlete have to do with being a great leader?
Before Michael Jordan became the greatest basketball player of all time, he would practice shooting free-throws endlessly; to the point where he could literally drain them while blind-folded.
Before Deion Sanders was on the field establishing himself as one of the best cornerbacks the NFL has ever seen, he was in the locker room watching hours and hours of game films.
How much time do you think Michael Phelps spent in the pool before he won his 16 olympic medals?
Yes, these noteworthy athletes achieved remarkable levels of success by following the rules within their respective sports. Otherwise, they would have been sniffed out and we wouldn’t be talking about them here. The more important thread that I think we need to delve into here is the concept of discipline.
In 1 Corinthians 9:25, Paul describes an athlete as such:
“All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.”
We are to be disciplined in our walk with Christ and our faith. We shouldn’t stop there, however. Let’s be disciplined leaders…
A Truly Disciplined Leader will not…
1. Withhold information from or lie to his or her staff. I have quite a few friends who work at The Ramsey Show in Brentwood, TN. Just one of the many,many things that amazes me about their organization is that Dave will stand up at their weekly meetings and tell all of his employees every little financial number and statistic whether positive or negative; pretty or ugly. He tells the staff where their business is at, what they need to work on, and how to get there. It takes discipline to know the condition of your flocks and give an honest account to your team.
2. Cut corners or sacrifice quality for results. I used to work in a big-name chain restaurant that prided itself in maintaining its status as being the strongest store in our region financially. The numbers looked good. Even in a slow economy where restaurants were closing all around us, our numbers looked really good. What didn’t look good was our product. Standards slipped. Corners were cut. Quality suffered; even if only subtly. Sure, our financials were strong and the customers were marginally satisfied. But, how long can you sustain strong financials if you’re providing your customers with a sub-par, unremarkable experience?
3. Compromise his or her integrity. This is the most dangerous one that undergirds every shady failing in leadership. It really encompasses the first two points above, but deserves its own mention. It’s so easy to compromise our integrity when we get backed in to a corner. We want our business to look good, so we’re tempted to lie about our progress. We’re struggling financially and need to squeak by this quarter, so we’re tempted to skimp on our user experience. We’ve absolutely have to close this next deal, so we’re tempted to withhold information or lie in order to make it happen. When given the choice between the path that is long and narrow or the path that is short and wide, we have to resist the urge to compromise. If we lose our integrity, we lose our character. If we lose that, we lose everything (including our followers and our business.)
A truly disciplined leader will…
1. Hold himself and his people accountable. To goals. To standards. To principles. If the leader can’t consistently to his or her own standards of practice, they can’t expect their team to act any different. Everything rises and falls with leadership. If your team misses its goal for the month, its on you as the leader to own that and take corrective action. If one of your staff behaves in a way that’s inconsistent with your fundamental core values, its on you to correct that situation. If you turn a blind eye to disfunction in your organization; if you fail to hold you and your people accountable, you won’t lead them for long.
2. Invest in developing people. “A leader is great, not because of his or her power, but because of his or her ability to empower others.” I love this quote from John Maxwell. Your greatest assets are your people. I’ll say that again. Your greatest assets are your people. Train, educate, inform, and empower them to be the absolute best they can be and they will consistently provide you with superior performance. Take time to get to know each and every person on your team. Treat them with love. Mentor them. Help them to be the person they want to be. Another of my favorite quotes, this one from Zig Ziglar, “You can have anything you want in life as long as you help enough other people get what they want.” Help your people get what they want. In return, they will do amazing work for you and your cause.
3. Invest in developing him or herself. Leaders are readers and readers are leaders. Never stop learning. Never stop attending conferences, workshops, and seminars. Get out of your comfort zone and constantly seek new ways to grow and learn. I am of the strong belief that the day I stop learning will be the day I die. In a fast-paced, constantly evolving world such as the one we live in today, you can’t afford to get behind the curve. A great leader needs to maintain the discipline to intentionally improve himself every day. Every night before you go to bed, ask yourself, “What have I learned today? How have I grown? Am I a little better today than I was yesterday?” I promise, if you give yourself an honest accounting each night, you will never have a negative answer for two days in a row.
In what areas do you feel like you need a little more discipline?