I was a young leader, but I didn't know it. When I was in high school, sports was my passion. I played quarterback on the football team-a leadership position. I played point guard on the basketball team-a leadership position. I played catcher on the baseball team-a leadership position. But during those years that I was busy being a leader at my high school, I never thought about what it meant to be a leader. What's more, no adult ever mentored, taught, or coached me in the practice and principles of leadership.
After high school, I went to college at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. At the start of my junior year, I was tossed headfirst into an experience that galvanized me as a leader. It occurred in November 1960, and it had to do with a basketball game.
In those days, freshmen were not eligible for the varsity basketball team, so every November there would be a big game in which the freshman team would play the varsity team. The game, held in the Coliseum in Winston-Salem, was open to the public.
Five days before the game, Jerry Steele, the president of the Monogram Club, our lettermen's organization, came to me and said, "Williams, we've got to put this game on and you're in charge."
"In charge of what?" "In charge of everything," he said. And he meant that literally. Even though the game was just five days away, nobody had done one thing to make it happen.
I opened my mouth to argue-then I shut it. Jerry Steele was a sixfoot eight-inch, 240-pound basketball player, all of which added up to a very persuasive personality. So I agreed to be volunteered.
I spent the next five days putting together a basketball show for the whole community. I worked on various promotions and got the publicity information to the local radio and TV stations and the newspapers. I planned a halftime show and brought in a band from a local high school. I auditioned a singer for the national anthem. I located a color guard for the start of the game. I brought in cheerleaders. I printed and sold the tickets. In short, I was doing the same things I would later do as an NBA executive. It was on-the-job leadership training.
The job was far too big for one guy, so I learned very quickly the importance of delegating. I grabbed volunteers (not all of them willing!) wherever I could find them. I buttonholed and recruited; I wheeled and dealed; I became a leader!
How did it come off? I remember that game as if it was yesterday. Everything happened right on schedule, and everybody had a great time. When it was over, I was walking two inches off the ground. I was so pleased with myself that my grin barely fit on my face. It was one of the most satisfying and energizing experiences of my life. I received accolades from the athletics director, the students, the players, the coach, and people in the community.
That night, as I went to bed, I realized something I had never known before: I was a leader!
The Seven Keys to Unlocking Leadership Potential
Looking back, I see that this one event opened the door for every other leadership role I've held during these past forty-odd years. Everything I've done as a leader, as a promoter, as a general manager, as a sports executive, had its genesis in that one event. Jerry Steele tossed me that responsibility as if it was a live grenade. He thought he was giving me a job nobody else would want, nobody else would take. But I passed the test. Little did Jerry realize that he had a big hand in launching my career as a leader.
In the years since then, I have become fascinated with the subject of leadership. Some of the most effective and influential leaders in the world of sports and the world of business, including baseball executive and promoter Bill Veeck, Philadelphia Phillies owner Bob Carpenter, and Orlando Magic owner Rich DeVos, have instructed and mentored me. Other leaders who have had a big influence on my life include businessman and minor-league baseball owner R. E. Littlejohn; former major league catcher and Miami Marlins manager Andy Seminick (I caught for the minor-league Marlins in 1962-63); my college baseball coach, Jack Stallings; my high school football coach, Bob DeGroat; and my high school baseball coach (who was also a former Phillies farmhand), Peanuts Riley. These leaders and mentors not only modeled leadership in my life, but they also set a high bar for me to live up to. I wanted them to be proud of me and pleased with my work. They motivated me to be a leader.
Finally, I distilled everything I had learned about leadership in a book called The Paradox of Power, which was published in the fall of 2002 by Warner Books. This book had quite an impact, and I received literally hundreds of letters from readers who were excited about the concepts and principles in that book. After the book had been out for a few months, I received a call from my publisher at Warner, Rolf Zettersten. "Pat," he said, "I've just come from an editorial meeting, and we have an idea for a book we'd like you to write."
Well, that was something new in my experience! Usually, I came up with book ideas and tried to find a publisher who would agree to publish them. Here was my publisher coming to me with a book idea! "This book would be a natural follow-up to The Paradox of Power," Rolf continued. "Pat, what's the number one desire of every parent for his or her children? What's the number one desire of every teacher, coach, pastor, and youth worker concerning the young people they are guiding and mentoring?"
Well, I am the father of nineteen children (four by birth, fourteen by international adoption, and one by remarriage), and the first answer that came to mind was that they stay out of trouble! But I knew that Rolf was getting at something much deeper than that.
"I know," I said. "Our number one desire is that they become leaders." "Precisely," Rolf said. "We thought that with all the young people you have raised in your home, and with all the study you have put into the issue of leadership, you would be uniquely qualified to write a book on how to develop leadership skills in young people."
I thought, Wow! Does this idea hit me where I live or what? Developing young leaders has been one of my top goals, not only as a parent nineteen times over, but as a sports manager, a speaker, and a volunteer in my church. What's more, in my travels across the country, I have sensed a hunger throughout our society for fresh insights into the challenge of training and motivating young people to be leaders.
My next question was: Where would these fresh insights come from? The answer came to me in a flash: from leaders themselves. I realized that to write this book, I needed to chase down hundreds of leaders and distill the best of those stories into this book. I was convinced that the essential principles of training and motivating young leaders would emerge from those hundreds of interviews-and I was right.
I spent twelve months sending out letters and making phone calls, gathering stories, insights, and ideas from leaders around the country. I sent out more than a thousand questionnaires to leaders in every walk of life-business, sports, government, the military, education, religion, and on and on. A friend of mine, author-journalist Larry Guest, calls me "the Prince of Overkill," and I am-I can't help myself. Once I started collecting ideas and stories from the first wave of respondents, I got so excited about what I was reading that I had to send out more and more questionnaires. When the smoke had cleared, I had mailed more than nine thousand questionnaires.
Before I was finished, I had received stories and insights from more than eight hundred leaders, from Florida's Governor Jeb Bush to Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern to San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to leadership guru John Maxwell. While answers to my questionnaires were still pouring in, I saw patterns and trends emerging. Many of these leaders had youthful experiences and influences in common. Many talked about the same components of authentic leadership. Though their stories were different, the principles for inspiring, instructing, and motivating young leaders were the same. So I got together with my writing partner, Jim Denney, and we hammered out the structure for this book-a structure that was based entirely on the results of this research, not on any preconceived notions. In short, this book was written in the trenches. It comes straight from the real-life experiences of real leaders. So you can be sure that these insights are true and these principles work. If you apply these insights and principles to your relationships with young leaders, you will see results in young lives.
At the beginning of this project, I suspected that the same seven principles of leadership that formed the basis of my previous book, The Paradox of Power, would apply to the challenge of training and motivating young leaders. My research confirmed this to be true. The essential principles of leadership do not change, whether they are practiced in the Oval Office, the corner office, or the office of the sophomore class president at Herbert Hoover High.
The essence of a leader is embodied in these seven keys to unlocking leadership potential. It is up to us as parents, coaches, teachers, pastors, youth group advisors, and mentors to inspire and motivate young leaders to build these seven qualities into their lives. The seven qualities of effective leaders are:
1. Vision. Every leader, young or old, must have a vision. A vision defines what success looks like. The leader and the entire team compete for, struggle for, and sacrifice for a vision. We must learn how to challenge and inspire young people to become young visionaries.
2. Communication. Every leader must be able to communicate the vision to the entire team-and must do so effectively and persuasively so that all the team members will buy into it. We need to give young people opportunities to build their communication skills-and their confidence.
3. People skills. Whether young or old, leaders must know how to motivate people, resolve conflicts, listen, acknowledge, affirm, praise, and build community. In other words, leaders need people skills-the ability to work effectively with people in order to inspire them to achieve a goal.
4. Character. People admire and follow leaders who exhibit genuine character. As John Maxwell observed, "People buy into the leader before they buy into the leader's vision." So young leaders need to build good character traits into their lives, including a strong work ethic, humility, honesty, integrity, personal responsibility, social responsibility, self-discipline, courage, kindness, fairness, tolerance, and respect for others.
5. Competence. Notice that the first seven letters of competence are c-o-m-p-e-t-e. A group or team with a competent leader can compete and win. Competence comes from having experience (a proven track record), learning how to delegate, and approaching every task with a commitment to excellence.
6. Boldness. It's fourth-and-one, and you're forty yards from the goal line. Do you gather up your courage and reach for one more hard-fought yard-or do you punt? To become leaders, young people must learn how to overcome shyness, timidity, and a tendency to play it safe. Without risk, there is no adventure. You can't be a leader without boldness.
7. Servanthood. True leadership is not about being "the boss" but about being a servant. Young people need to be mentored, inspired, and challenged to see their leadership roles not as opportunities to expand their egos, but as opportunities to serve others and God.
These seven qualities provide a solid foundation for any leader, young or old. They are the foundation of this book.
Why We Need Leaders
We live in an increasingly dangerous world-a world that often seems to be drifting toward a dark and uncertain future. Our civilization seems hemmed in on every side by the threat of economic catastrophe, ecological destruction, racial and ethnic clashes, religious warfare, nuclear, biological, and chemical terror, cyber attacks, social and political instability, poverty, urban blight, crime, drugs, alcoholism, ignorance and illiteracy, population pressure, and unknown threats from emerging technologies. "If today's kids do not become leaders, where does society go?" asked Dr. Larry McCarthy, associate professor at the Stillman School of Business Management, Seton Hall University. "We constantly need to replenish the world's coterie of leaders. The current leaders move on, move up, or die off, yet the world's problems continue to grow. Where do we turn, then, if we have no new generation of leaders ready to step up to the challenges of our world?"
My friend Jay Strack, president of Student Leadership University, is America's number one authority on developing young leaders. "We have been hit between the eyes as parents, educators, and coaches," he said, "with the fact that our kids are woefully unprepared to deal with real life. Corporations are spending millions of dollars training young people how to lead. It's a huge industry. Our universities and the military are realizing that the young people who stream into their halls and barracks are not well prepared to lead. We have produced a generation that is neither deep nor wide in leadership ability. Many parents are beginning to realize just how ill-prepared their kids are to face life's challenges and make good decisions."
Let me tell you about a young leader named Danny Rohrbough. Danny was fifteen years old, a high school freshman who loved computers, stereos, and big-screen TVs. He often helped out his dad in the family electronics business. He eagerly looked forward to getting his driver's permit.
On one warm spring day, Danny Rohrbough and more than four hundred of his fellow students were eating lunch in the high school cafeteria. Suddenly, the students were startled by the sound of gunfire just outside the building. Two male students in black trench coats were stalking the grounds, guns raised, firing at students. They killed a seventeenyear- old girl who was eating her lunch. Then they shot a young man sitting next to her eight times, leaving him alive but permanently paralyzed.
The two killers then went down some stairs and entered the cafeteria. When the students in the cafeteria saw the armed boys, they fled. The killers tried to detonate some butane-powered bombs in the cafeteria, but they failed to explode.
Danny Rohrbough was in the crowd of students who made it out of the cafeteria, running for safety. But unlike the other students, Danny stopped, went back, and held the door open so that his fellow students could get out of the cafeteria faster. He stood there holding the door until one of the two killers saw him, took aim, and shot him three times. Danny staggered a few steps down the walk, then stumbled and fell.
He died on the sidewalk, just a few steps from safety. The gunfire and screams continued. The gunmen killed twelve students and a teacher that day. It was Tuesday, April 20, 1999, and the school was Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
Several days later, Danny Rohrbough was remembered at his funeral as both a leader and a servant, a young man who held the door open, showing his fellow students the way to life and safety and a future. He laid down his life for his friends. The minister at his funeral said, "Danny might have lived if he had made a different choice. Yet he chose to stand and hold the door so that others might make it to safety. They made it. Danny didn't."
A high school senior named Nick also spoke at the funeral. He said, "I never knew Danny, but I wish I had. I owe him everything." Then, his voice choking, he raised his eyes toward the rafters and added, "Thank you for saving my life."
Danny Rohrbough could have chosen safety. He chose leadership instead. He demonstrated boldness, character, and a servant's heart. He held the door so that others could walk through and live.
The world is a dangerous place. That is why we need more young people like Danny Rohrbough. The world needs young people who are willing to lead, willing to serve their generation, willing to boldly stand at the crossroads of history and hold open the door to the future. That is the challenge before us. As parents, coaches, teachers, and mentors, we have the task of inspiring and motivating a generation to take Danny Rohrbough's place at the door so that they can lead our world to hope, to life, to the future.
So turn the page with me. Let's learn together how to change our world by changing lives. Let's discover what it means to coach our kids to be leaders.
Copyright © 2005 by Pat Williams