Leadership Lessons from a 15 Year Old

Who is the least powerful person in an organization?  Would you think me crazy to say the senior leader?  Given most organizations’ complexity, would it be safe to say that there is no way the CEO could do everything needed to deliver the product or service of a particular entity?  Consequently, this person must focus on three primary responsibilities: Envision, Inspire, and Align the teams’ members.  My high-school aged son taught me an unforgettable lesson in team leadership, values and connecting to a higher purpose that was worthy of someone three times his age.

Fifteen years ago, the game of Lacrosse was well-known in the east; less so in in northern Nevada where we lived.  My boys had been fortunate because their godfather had sent them sticks since they were two.  It wasn’t terribly surprising when they came home from high school one day and said, “Dad, we want to start a lacrosse club.”

I had played a little in college (hence the former teammate who became the godfather).  I was privately tickled and supported them in their efforts to establish a program at Reno High. 

The summer after our first season, one of the boys wanted to go to a camp so that he could better his goalie skills.  I sent him back east to one held at my alma mater, Johns-Hopkins.  A large cluster of his new teammates had come as a group from Tennessee, and apparently, they were quite a handful.  Although they were having fun and improving their individual skills, they were wreaking havoc among the other teammates.

As teenagers (and sometimes adults) sometimes do, the Tennessee group would cull one of the other members each day for “the treatment,” which would consist of varying forms of bullying or harassment.  When they tired of that boy, they would move on to another, and so on.

The athletes gathered every morning to board yellow school buses to take them to their respective fields for the day’s activities.  One day, it fell to Patrick to undergo “the treatment.”  In addition to their own equipment, campers were expected to carry all the extra gear, ice chests, water and the like.  As he was carrying the ice chest out the back door of the bus, the group continually tried to trip him and cause him to tumble out the door. Naturally, they laughed and taunted as they did this.  He jumped down with the chest, unscathed, and dragged his gear down to the field they were assigned to play on.

He didn’t say anything as he got ready and warmed up.  The game began normally and, the first time the opposing team brought the ball down and shot, Patrick simply stepped aside and allowed the ball to enter the goal untouched.  And the next time, and the time after that!  It’s easy to imagine what his teammates must have said to themselves and perhaps to others.

After the 7th time, the coach, a college lacrosse athlete working with the kids called time-out.  He went out to the goal crease to ask his goalie what was going on, probably with a little heat.  Patrick calmly replied that he was fine and would take care of everything at half-time.

The intermission couldn’t have come fast enough for the members of his team, some of whom, notably the kids from Tennessee, were staring daggers at him.  They gathered in a circle, and he stood up and addressed the crew.  “Was that fun? Are you getting any better,” he asked?

“We’re supposed to be a team, focused on playing together so that we can get better and have fun.  How’s that working out for you?  You guys pick on one teammate after another and try to dominate each one. How is that helping the team?”  And then he said, “If we agree here, right now, that you act like real teammates for the rest of the camp, I’ll stop shots.”

They did…And so did he.

Great story (maybe I’m biased) but what does that have to do with team leadership in the workplace?  The kids from Tennessee, aside from being mischievous, were basically focused on their own purpose: have fun, get better as an individual athlete.  All about “me.”  That alone clearly violated any team’s value of relatedness and fairness. 

In this case, the goalie had the leadership integrity and courage to confront the violation of a core value of any team, putting self above the group.  What made it interesting is that he didn’t do it in a shouting match with the players outside of the game.  He made it graphically clear what one player’s failure could do for a team’s fortunes.  In so doing, he helped connect everyone’s individual purpose, having fun and getting better individually, and inspired them to align themselves with the vision for the higher team purpose: playing well together to achieve team satisfaction.  The improved outcomes on the scoreboard naturally followed.  Maybe we adults could take a page from his playbook.

Not bad for 15-years-of-age.

Ready, Mindset, Grow!

Ready, Mindset, Grow!: Nuggets Mined from the Leadership Journeys

Business leadership books abound today. What makes this one worth the read? Actionable insights! Ready, Mindset, Grow, delivers to today’s leaders entertaining stories of the transformative power of culture. Backed by solid research, these brief tales, and the lessons they convey, can be put into practice for short-term wins and long-term growth. Entertaining and insightful, the author has filled the pages with cultural nuggets and jewels from his 30+ years of experience in leadership coaching and consulting. Smart leaders will appreciate the candor, catch glimpses into their own circumstances and gain the conviction needed to accomplish positive cultural change.


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