Happy New Year!! My first post of 2011 and if this title was what you were expecting for my next blog I suspect you are prophetic. Even I didn’t think this would be my next blog. I had full intentions on blogging about the modern Christian Faith environment and the constant us vs. them that is so readily seen today. But this is where I ended up. I will definitely try and come back to the idea of the modern day environment of Christianity but for now let’s look into leadership.
The idea of this blog came to me while I was watching Michael Vick and the Eagles play in a regular season game a month or so ago. If you haven’t been able to watch Michael Vick’s “come back” year you’ve really missed some exciting football. The guy has come back better than when he left and it’s great to watch. I’m a softy so redemption stories are what life is all about for me. Allow me to go on a little bit of a rabbit’s trail before we continue. Several years ago we all know what happened with Michael Vick (if you don’t you’ve been living in a well-designed and insulated bubble) Michael was arrested and sentenced to several years in prison for his part in a Dog Fighting ring (that he owned). With his arrest and subsequent jail time he left the Atlanta Falcon’s in a bad place. It was bad enough that their all-star Quarterback was no longer with them but before he left he assured the owner of the Falcon’s that he didn’t do anything. Needless to say this breach of trust and contract made it harder for Michael to return to the NFL. He was black balled. Not only was he on the American publics (probably the minority) hate list, but was now considered a liability to many of the NFL owners. He definitely couldn’t return to the Falcon’s as the owner was left high and dry, with a massive breach of trust. Without going into further details Michael Vick eventually found a spot with the Philadelphia Eagles thanks to his longtime friend Donovan McNabb.
Vick didn’t get much play time his first year. He did however get a lot of hateful press. I’m sure the Eagles organization took a bit of heat as well for hiring such a delinquent “dog hater”. Vick was able to get a little bit of action during the year however and was impressive. Though he wasn’t a major part of any game it was assured that if Vick touched the ball it would be exciting.
Then came the off season. The Eagles trade their long time Quarterback Donovan McNabb to the Redskins. Vick now has the opportunity to start, and it was a running start. Vick was exciting. His passing was better than ever, his running was smooth and ellusive. In spite of his constant critics Vick focused on playing ball and he did it well. My middle brother is a massive sports fan. He knows everything about sports. He also happens to be a huge Atlanta Falcons fan. When Vick was on the Falcons’ my brother took a road trip to watch them play (when you live in Saskatchewan road trips are road trips when you’re talking about an NFL game). Before he left he purchased a custom Michael Vick jersey. This jersey was authentic, and it was expensive. The game he went to watch happened to be a game in which Vick wasn’t playing. Vick was wandering the side lines and my brother tried to get his attention before the game to have him sign his Vick jersey. Michael ignored him and left my brother a little disenfranchised. It wouldn’t have been hard to sign the jersey (and if he knew how far my brother traveled to watch the game he would have probably felt loved and honored) but Vick was the “next best thing” in football and he knew it. He was too proud to care about anyone or thing besides himself. This was evident in his activities that eventually lead to his arrest. However the Vick that is playing with the Eagles appears different. His swagger is different. He interviews different. He plays different.
Anyway let’s get back to the game I was watching. The announcers were discussing how amazing Vick has been this season. His pass rating was one of the top in the league, his rushing yard average was tops and his team was doing well. I’m sure it felt good to be Michael Vick again. I’m sure it was a great feeling being a talented and sought after leader in his profession. During the game however I noticed something about leadership. Vick was playing amazing. He was doing what he needed to do in order for his team to succeed. Have you ever thought about leadership stats? In this case football stats? See as they were talking about Michael Vick’s pass rating he threw a perfect pass to one of his receivers that would have placed them near the goal line. The pass was everything it needed to be but the receiver didn’t catch it. When I saw this I started thinking. Ok, so “Vick is the leader. He can do what he needs to do but if his guys don’t do what they are supposed to do whose stats are affected?” In this case it’s Michael’s. Sure the team is affected, and the receiver can’t add the yards he would have had to his game total but the truth is Michael Vick’s rating is affected even though he didn’t do anything wrong. What a great picture of leadership.
I’m currently a business leader in my community (on a side note I always look for a sports background when hiring. I believe sports teach people team work, hard work and a respect for authority). I have a sports background and love to watch a good game when I can. I am also very interested in the stories behind the games and leaders. My baby brother Kent came over with his wife a few weeks ago and told me to watch a biography on Vince Lombardi that is airing on HBO. If you have PVR it’s worth setting your recorder. There were several points in the movie that I was inspired but the first time I was like WOW was a story told by Frank Gifford. Frank was a running back for the New York Giants. Lombardi was new to the NFL. His coaching career up until that point consisted of a head coaching career for a high school and a few assistant coach positions in college. When Vince arrived in New York as an assistant coach (offensive coordinator) for the Giants team he stuck to what he knew, unfortunately for him the professional men of the Giants were not too keen on being treated like kids. Mr. Gifford said of Lombardi’s approach as being laughable. After several practices Lombardi noticed he wasn’t getting anywhere with the players and pulled Frank Gifford aside and asked him what he was doing wrong. Needless to say this act of humility paid off huge. In two years the Giants were champions. The cool part is leadership doesn’t just reward the leader. In 1956 Frank Gifford, the man Lombardi looked at as a leader of the team and asked for his advice ended up as MVP of the league. I was in awe of how this leader of man humbled himself in order to get the results he was so desperately trying to get. I assumed Lombardi was a hardnosed guy but I should have known that in order to be as successful as he was he knew when to be humble.
Another “ah ha (stupid Oprah)” moment for me happened when Lombardi moved to Green Bay to take on his first Head coaching job in the NFL. Lombardi had been focused on this goal for years. All he wanted to do was lead a football team and this was his chance. Green Bay’s franchise is much like the Saskatchewan Roughrider franchise. At the time Lombardi took over as head coach it was community owned and Board run. At the beginning of his tenure with the team he took heat from the Board, well maybe was given advice from the board would be more appropriate. Lombardi responded to this “advice” by saying, “I’ll lead this team.” Needless to say his first shot at leadership was not going to be an easy one (being under a microscope never is). Where I was inspired, where I had an “Oprah” moment, was after hearing an interview with the then Quarterback of the Green Bay Packers talk about Vince’s first meeting with the team. The team was all gathered in the room waiting to hear from their head coach. At this point the team was probably comfortable with mediocrity. They had consistently been at the bottom of the league and were probably expecting the new coach to embrace them as they were. Here’s the first thing Vince said to his team. “Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly pursue perfection, knowing full well that we will not catch it. We are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we catch excellence. I am not the least bit interested in just being good.” The Quarterback Bart Star was now at the edge of his seat, inspired to do whatever Mr. Lombardi asked them to do.
Well the Packers began a hard work regiment. Vince was quoted to say “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” And the hard effort paid off. The year before Lombardi took over the Packers lost every game but 2 (1 loss and 1 tie). After his first year they had a winning season. They eventually went on to win 3 championships in a row, something that had never been done before. They also won the first two Super bowl’s ever put on (at this time the AFC and NFC where two different leagues).
The price of greatness is responsibility. Leadership is an amazing thing. As I sat at Earl’s with some good friends I was sharing a little bit about this idea. I was focusing on the negatives of leadership and sharing that as a leader you are dependent on the people you lead, and if they screw up, well, you are the one that’s affected long term. Coaches are fired all the time. Passes are dropped and your pass rating goes down. In response to this idea my friend said this. “Ya, but leadership gets all the rewards.” And that is true. Sure Vick throws a perfect pass to someone on his team and they drop it, but who remembers the guy that dropped it? Or even the dropped pass? Who’s the one with all the notoriety? Who gets on prime time TV, and who wins the awards and sponsorships? VICK.
As I’ve reflected over the past month or so on leadership (really trying to decide if I want to continue in a leadership role) I was struck by what it is a leader is and does. I wonder if Vick would sign my brother’s jersey now? His life has brought some trials over the past few years but in those trials he has emerged (at least perceived as) a humble focused leader. I bet he’d sign the jersey now. And as I watched Lombardi (that’s the actual name of the documentary) I was struck at the simple things that make leaders great.
As Christians we are all leaders. We are called to go out and share the gospel. I suspect that the same qualities and characteristics that make us great leaders in our professional fields will also make us great leaders (fishers) of men, leaders in our communities and leaders in our faith sharing. Be humble, know when to stop doing what you think is right and seek what is right for the ones you lead. Stay focused and strive after perfection because in that you’ll find excellence (in the Christian perspective I would apply this to your character). Show grace and don’t be afraid to give someone a second chance (no matter how unpopular the choice might be) as you might have another Vick on your hands. Work hard, be an example and though the responsibility is sometimes overwhelming, the rewards will be great!
So go! LEAD! Change lives and the world. I’ll leave you with a few quotes from Vince Lombardi.
Coaches who can outline plays on a black board are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their player and motivate. – Vince Lombardi
Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence. – Vince Lombardi
Dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price. – Vince Lombardi
Fatigue makes cowards of us all. – Vince Lombardi
Football is like life – it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority. – Vince Lombardi
I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious. – Vince Lombardi
If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm. – Vince Lombardi
If you can accept losing, you can’t win. – Vince Lombardi
Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work. – Vince Lombardi
It’s easy to have faith in yourself and have discipline when you’re a winner, when you’re number one. What you got to have is faith and discipline when you’re not a winner. – Vince Lombardi