“I believe leadership itself is largely learned.” – coach John Wooden
John Wooden, the UCLA basketball coach who became an icon of American sports while guiding the Bruins to an unprecedented 10 national championships in the 1960s and ’70s and remained in the spotlight during retirement with his “Pyramid of Success” motivational program, has died. He was 99. (LA Times, June 5, 2010 by Bill Dwyre & David Wharton).
I agree completely with the coach – leadership is mostly learned. That’s why I’m always amazed when people label others as if they were frozen in time like a photograph. It is the summit of leadership stupidity. It’s easier to make a judgment about a person than it is to evaluate and then work with them, inspiring them to grow, learn, and change.
We take pictures of our children because we want to capture the moment. We know the moment is here and then it is gone. We know the kids continue to grow and change with time. That’s exactly how we should view the evaluation and coaching process of leading people.
We must work hard at evaluating team members without freezing them in time. We must see people “where they are” but also see “where they can be” in a month, a year, a decade, a life-time. That’s what leaders do. A leader cannot be cynical about people. It does not fit well with the job of influence. And it is not what we expect from leaders. We see them as “leading the way;” moving them, us, and the organization from one place to a higher elevation.
I’m a perfect example of John Wooden’s belief that “Leadership is Learned.” Like you, I’ve had my share of success resulting from God-given talent and intuition. But God’s design includes learning as much as anything. You can’t get where God wants you on talent and intuition alone. You must grow! Let me share two areas I have learned the most about over the past five years.
I’m not a social idiot but I certainly under-valued the importance of healthy relationships along the way. You see, I’m a task-driven person, an achiever. My sense of relating was directly connected to my competency and performance. As a performer, I felt good about myself when goals were accomplished – as many were. Worse yet, I felt good about relationships if people praised my performance. For all of you “Type A” personalities, pay close attention to the next sentence. My sense of personal worth was based upon my accomplishments and my sense of being in good relations was based upon the feedback I received from others.
Looking back, it seems simple. It’s not. Talent and intuition took me far but learning will take me where God sees me. One of my new friends and leadership mentors, Llyod Lewan, told me that a leader must understand the difference between friendly and familiar. I believe he is right because people and relationships are fragile. To practice the behaviors of leadership, we must exercise sincere friendliness while realizing the danger of familiarity on certain platforms.
Naivete does not believe the two should be separated. My experience tells me otherwise. As a leader, you need safe people and safe places but you better judge carefully. Make no mistake about it, those on your team need you. They need you to relate to them as a leader. They count on you for that. The organization expects that. It is an unselfish discipline to coach, comfort, encourage, direct, and discipline those who serve under your watch. You have needs too but be wise in how you choose to see them met.
You can’t lead when you are not 100% committed! Sound too obvious? When we’re younger, we feel good about ourselves when we find something we do well. It gives us a sense of value. But as we mature, doing what we know how to do is a far cry from God’s design. As a result, it rarely satisfies. At least for me, realizing the difference between what I really want to do and what I can do caught me by surprise. It was like a slow death. I was receiving praise. I was succeeding. Yet I began to lose motivation and vision.
I started to lose focus. I was no longer having fun. You might be thinking: “You’re weird Jim; work is not fun.” I disagree. God did not design work as a punishment for man, it was part of his perfect plan. What makes work hard, is us – our lack of understanding. Without proper understanding we cannot shape a healthy vision for the future. It works like this: understanding breeds perspective and contextualizes one’s purpose. Purpose lays a foundation where vision begins to form. When a person lives purposely, they develop POWERFUL decision making abilities. In fact, “Purpose Power” makes life-changing decisions that walk right past what many would call obvious and practical opportunities. When you live in tune with your purpose, you will find the courage you’ve been missing and rarely will you struggle with being “ALL IN.”
Here’s the bottom-line. I can no longer accept projects or roles I am not excited about. I must discipline myself to understand the opportunity and the fit. Is this what I really want to do? Not, “Can I do this?” Those who follow me expect me to be the most dedicated and enthusiastic. Shouldn’t I be? And I can only be that for them if I really want to! Don’t lie to others and don’t lie to yourself. Do what you were made to do. Have a little faith in yourself, others, and place all your faith in God.