If I had to boil leadership down into a single idea it would be this:
You gotta care.
Several years ago I coached a young man named Jeff, who was the quarterback of our seventh-grade tackle football team. He wasn’t the biggest kid on the team. He wasn’t the fastest and he wasn’t the strongest.
But he was a fantastic leader.
During practice he talked constantly with his receivers and running backs, making certain they knew their assignments. He talked with his linemen, helping them to understand the importance of their roles. As we practiced, it wasn’t unusual for him to stop in the middle of a play to move people around, letting them know exactly where he needed them to be.
But the most impressive thing about Jeff was that he showed every player that he cared about them. If a lineman ever missed a block, Jeff was the first one patting him on the back, telling him it was okay. If a receiver ever dropped a pass, Jeff was the first one slapping him on the helmet and telling him not to worry about it. If a running back ever missed a hole, fumbled a handoff, or ran into a tackle, Jeff would be right there, saying, “Hey, don’t worry ’bout it, man! You’re okay . . . nobody’s hurt, nobody’s hurt.”
Every player on the team knew that Jeff cared more about them than he cared about scoring touchdowns and winning games. The result was that those kids played their hearts out for him. Linemen exploded off the line like charging buffalo, protecting Jeff like he was made of china. Receivers jumped, reached, and stretched as if trying to make the Sports Center highlight reel.
They weren’t doing it for glory.
They weren’t doing it for attention.
They were doing it for Jeff.
One time a burly linebacker blasted through the offensive line, barreling into Jeff just as he was setting his feet to throw. The kid hit him so hard that the ball went sailing into the air and Jeff’s helmet went flying down the field.
In an instant Jeff was surrounded by his teammates. They weren’t crowding in to have a look at gnarly injuries. They were standing in a protective circle around him as if daring anyone to try getting close to him.
Yeah, I know it’s a clichÃ©, but Jeff showed the truth behind the old adage that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.