Watching a youth football game last Saturday I was struck by the similarities between the skills and knowledge my son was learning and those I try and engender in staff every day. Having originally been trained as an economist, it is always intriguing to me to see how the concepts I learned in that discipline actually play out in real life. For example, one basic tenet of economics is that specialization of resources is the most efficient manner of production and conducting business. This is ever-so-clear on the football field, where we see each of the players taking up a very specific role, with defined assignments. Not much different from an effective project team. In both cases, the whole ends up greater than the sum of the parts. Even the smallest player (physically or in terms of workload) is vital to the team’s success.
Having strong leadership is also key to the ‘work’ done on the field. To be successful, a team must have a quarterback who can take the reins, especially when things are getting tough, and direct his team toward the goal. Someone who can think clearly and objectively, maintain composure and who has the vision to see the big picture is ideal in this role. We see these same qualities in our best organizational leaders. Who among us has not had to work for a manager lacking in these areas? Never is it more clear how critical it is to be able to truly lead than in the absence of a true leader.
A lot of people would argue that the most important thing our kids learn from team sports is just that-teamwork. The ability to work together as part of a larger unit, learn to compromise for the betterment of the group, and grow the willingness to sacrifice your own individual statistics to help the team succeed are all, of course, valuable characteristics of any employee at any level-all the way up to CEO. However, I happen to believe that there is something I saw on the field last weekend that is even more important than everything else I have mentioned.
Throughout the game, regardless of the score, I witnessed 22 players giving everything they had to succeed. They went at their tasks with what I have referred to as the 3 Es- Energy, Excitement, and Enthusiasm. I could not have been prouder of the players from both teams as they worked as hard as they could, until the last horn, to accomplish their goals. Simply by bringing their enthusiasm to everything they did on the field, they showed to everyone watching, and most importantly to each other, how dedicated they were to the effort. When there is someone working beside you who has that level of commitment, it is virtually impossible to not try and match it. If we could all be fortunate enough to have staff that ‘brought it’ every day, our organizations would be filled with success stories.
Before this can happen though, we need to remember that it starts with each of us. Think about your workday today. Did you bring your whole, true self to your tasks? Can you honestly say that you gave all you had to your assignments and made the outcomes the best you could? Did you demonstrate the 3 Es? Think about it. I believe you will find that if you show these characteristics, others are bound to follow-and that’s what it means to be a real leader.