Leadership – You Gotta BELIEVE!!!

Friends, those of you who know me personally know that my favorite topic is LEADERSHIP. However, that topic is so broad that I like to talk about it by taking baby steps, or one bite at a time. I also like telling stories, so today I hope that my story can highlight one very important concept included in any discussion of leadership, or more specifically, what great leaders DO!

Leaders MOTIVATE, and better yet, INSPIRE others to perform to their highest potential, and beyond!.

The funny thing about performance is that it isn’t always consistent. We are human beings with feelings, emotions, and are entitled to have that bad day once in a while. But, the best leaders understand all of these things, and they figure out what it takes for their “team” to bring their best game every time they are challenged. You may have often heard the phrase, “That’s why we play the game.” This phrase is often used in an attempt to explain how a here-to-fore winless team can beat a here-to-fore undefeated team.

It all begins inside the human mind. A big factor of whether a team can win is if the individuals on a team BELIEVE they can win. Think back to 1980, and the “Miracle on Ice”. The American Olympic ice hockey team beat the Soviet Olympic team by playing “over their heads”. On paper, the Soviet team was much better, but they did not win. The Americans BELIEVED they could and would win…every one remembers during the final seconds of that game sportscaster Al Michaels saying “DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?!!!”

I would like to share a true story that I experienced to illustrate how I feel emotions and inspiration work to improve an individual’s performance….the story begins in Secane, PA at my local Pricerite grocery store.

Let me begin by stating that, for better or worse, I have been told that I look a lot like the University of North Carolina’s head basketball coach, Roy Williams. I’ve been confused for him by bartenders and others who meet me for the first time. My favorite encounter was at an event where I walked up to the bar and the young lady (they are all young to me now) said “What will it be coach?”. (I knew she thought I was Roy Williams, but I played along as I have, in fact, coached many teams in my life so “Coach” as a title applies to me (as does bartender, minister, uber/lyft driver, director, assistant professor, colonel, etc.)). I replied, “I’d like a double IPA on tap if you have it.” She replied, “Coming right up Coach!”. She drew the draft while I fished out my wallet and as she approached me with the beverage and saw me ready to pay she said, “Put your wallet away, this one’s on me Coach!” I said thank you, took the drink, smiled at her, and stuffed the bill in my shirt! I digress… back to reality in Secane, PA at Pricerite….

I walked into the store heading down the first isle and an elderly man who looked a little down on his luck approached me and said with a very wide-eyed look, “COACH?” I saw that my presence (actually, in his mind, Roy Williams presence) had bouyed his spirits a little bit. I decided to play along. I nodded my head, drew closer to the gentleman, pulled out a piece of paper and pen, and signed a very scribbly “Joe Sanders” and gave it to him. As I handed him the “autograph” I wished him a good day and asked him to keep this on the “down low” while I was in the store. I could see he was excited and I didn’t want to burst his bubble.

Shoprite has many isles and I believe I crossed this man’s path at least 5 more times that day in the isles, each time we nodded to each other and occasionally winked at our little secret ;-). As he left the store I was in the check-out line. We both exchanged glances one more time and gave each other a thumbs up….we were both going to have a good day after this!

Now some would say that I was wrong to “lead this man on”. But before you judge me that way, consider this…at West Point, where the honor code states that ” a cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do”, we learned a term called “social honor”. We all took “cadetiquette” training where we learned how to write thank you notes and learned about social honor. (Frankly, I think part of it was so that we as cadets, fearing the penalty of expulsion for telling a lie, didn’t tell some officer’s wife that dinner that she prepared for us as guests in her home tasted terrible! The truth shall set you free!).

An example of using social honor would be when you receive a present from your grandma that she took months to knit. You think the sweater looks hideous, but you tell grandma that you love it. Why? Because you do not want to hurt her feelings AND you are not personally gaining by telling the lie. Or how about when my mom, who had dementia, asked if I had seen my father recently (he had died three years prior). I told her, “Sure mom, I just saw him the other day, he’ll be here soon!” She forgot the whole exchange. I learned the hard way the first time she had asked and I told her dad had died three years ago, she relived his death as if it had just happened. I caused her deep pain and decided I would never tell her the “truth” again if it was going to hurt her feelings. That is what social honor is all about, not hurting someone while not gaining from it yourself.

So, the topic here is LEADERSHIP and how good leaders MOTIVATE and INSPIRE others to perform better than they normally would. I’ll just say this…… when it comes to Roy WIlliams at the Shoprite in Secane, I would be willing to bet that the gentleman who “met Roy WIlliams” that day had a better day after meeting Roy, and if he were on a “team”, he would have performad better. Why? because he BELIEVED, and BELIEFS start in the mind! No harm no foul, he had a better day and I did not profit from the exchange.

OK, OK, you could say that I distorted the concept of social honor when I accepted the free beer from the female server as I technically “gained” something by going with the Roy William shtick, but hey, I never listed “angel” in my list of titles. Get over it.

Drive on soldiers, stay safe!

And remember, don’t stop BELIEVING!!!!


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