I just got back from a leadership conference put on by the students of Region III in the National Indoor Recreation Sports Association (NIRSA) and let me tell you, it was thrilling. I almost didn’t make it here though. The only reason I learned about this conference was because I started training to be a student manager at the Student Activity Center (SAC).
I received an email about a conference coming up and there was an informational meeting. The conference was called Lead On, so I figured it might be something I would enjoy (being a leadership minor and all). I attended the meeting a little unsure about what it might be, but after hearing the significant role these conferences have played in peoples lives, I decided I had to go. Fortunately enough for me, I was awarded a scholarship that covered the cost of the conference, so I could save some money while still being able to attend this conference.
Our Keynote speaker was brilliant. He was a storyteller, engaging us in the experience of past, telling us about his mentor and the great learning experience he had, sharing the challenges he faced growing up and—most importantly—the impact sports had on his life. He started off, and after a few formalities he said, “The real world is a lot like a sports team. Through sports we learn how to lose, not blame others, be humble, and never give up (I cannot stress enough importance on these few words). I hold a record at my school that has never been broken,” he says with a sure laugh. Of course we’re all curious to hear about what it is that his impressive feat is; what has he remained undefeated in—all strong leaders are great at something. I was poised on the edge of my seat, hanging on for the words that followed. “I hold the record for the most games played, 88, and least goals scored—zero.” We all enjoyed a hearty laugh, helping to break down the tension between the speaker and audience. What a great way to remind us that he is not awesome at everything he does. He made several other excellent points. Knowledge that can be applied to anyone, in any position of leadership, at any point in life; here they are:
- Sport is education. At first I thought I heard him wrong, then I realized that I had heard him right. He spoke about the way we can learn through sports about various character traits such as integrity, hard work, and leadership. These are not just values you use on the field, but values you carry with you throughout your life.
- Assistants make suggestions, coaches make decisions. In athletics there are coaches and assistant coaches. Assistant coaches typically specialize in area in order to give good advice to the coach, enabling him to make the best decisions; these are only suggestions. Ultimately a coach must make the decision and live with the consequences. In a way, we are our own coach. We alone must make the final decision and live up to the consequence. Surround yourself with mentors, people who inspire, and those you wish to learn from (assistants), but you alone must make your mind.
- Your values will outlast you. If all you care about is winning, or rather do not care at all about winning, the game is simple. You will cheat to win or you will be satisfied with the status quo. But when you desire to win and play with integrity and honesty, that is truly difficult. “There is no disgrace in losing, only losing Disgracefully.” There is no shame in failing when life is lived with passion and integrity. The truth is what you value will come out on the court, whatever you truly value will be shown by your actions.
- What will people say about you when you have passed away? What are the things that people will share at your funeral? How will you be remembered?
-Think about that for a moment. Will they say how they were impressed with how much money you had, the trips you took, the material possessions you had? No. They will remember you for who you were.
- Work Hard. Support your teammates. Always, always, always work hard. No matter where you are at and what you are doing. Give everything you have and give it all to the people that you are with. We often forget about our teammates in life, yet, they remain there. Parents, teachers, siblings, friends, these people are your teammates in life. They help you accomplish your goals. Support them and do what you can to help them.
- Whenever things go well, give credit to everyone else. It feels good to get praise. Heck, I’ll be the first to admit I love getting some accolades even if all I did was a small part in the greater picture. We all love to be recognized for our accomplishments, and as a leader our job is so important that it doesn’t need to be recognized. If you’re a great leader, you will get more praise than you deserve, so share it with those around you who deserve it.
- Take the heat when things go bad. Your first reaction may be to jump back from a fire or some dangerous criticism, but what if you knew your subordinate was right there? You would jump in front and protect them. Just as you might protect someone from harm in a physical situation, it is also a leader’s responsibility to protect them when things go wrong in the work place. Because the truth is, if they made a mistake it is a mistake your decisions allowed.
- Listen and be true. Listen to your followers—players, teammates, coworkers—with an open heart. Give them your full attention. Look them in the eyes, sit there, and just listen. Care about what they have to say. And just when you think they’ve finished, wait 10 seconds; they just might have one more thing. Listening is crucial because you need to show your followers that you care. If you don’t care about them, they wont care about how they perform for you.
- Trust your instincts. We are all faced with decisions in which we feel we know what is right, but may not make the right choice. When I was thinking about signing up to come to Lead On I felt as though I knew I should go, but I didn’t want to spend the money. Thankfully I caved and signed up (and got a scholarship).
- Confront others in person, don’t talk behind their back. If you tell someone they are doing a good job, you should mean it. Don’t tell them they are doing a good job then speak with the other players, workers, or followers as if you had never said that. Your credibility will be diminished greatly. Not only will the person who finds out feel hurt and unable to trust you anymore, but the other group members will know you are dishonest as well.
- Stay focused. As a leader focus is the key the of opportunity. Without focus, it will not matter how hard working you are, how much you listen, how much credit you spread, etc.. You must have a vision that you come back to, a constant reminder of your goals and the commitment you have made. No matter what happens, you come back to your vision and take steps to make it happen. Keep your focus.
- “The minute your people quit bringing their problems to you is the minute you stop being their leader.” When people take their problems somewhere else, they stop looking up to you (or don’t think you care). As a leader we need to encourage followers to bring their problems to us. This helps show that you care about them and your desire to be a part of their life.
I had never gone to a professional conference before. I was a bit nervous to go too, but it fired me up as a leader and was a great experience.
What are the great experiences that you need to take advantage of in your life that you might be a little hesitant to commit to?