The circumstances of life, the events of life, and the people around me in life do not make me the way I am, but revel the way I am.
– Sam Peeples, Jr.
In a Sports Illustrated story years back, Gary Smith relates the suffering of the late North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano from terminal spinal cancer at the age of 47. Speaking with a reporter, he looked back on his life and told a story about himself as a 23-year old coach of a small college team.
“Why is winning so important to you?” the players asked Valvano. “Because the final score defines you,” he said, “You lose, ergo, you’re a loser. You win, ergo, you’re a winner.” “No,” the players insisted. “Participation is what matters. Trying your best, regardless of whether you win or lose, that’s what defines you.”
It took 24 more years worth of living. It took the coach bolting up from the mattress three or four times a night with his t-shirt soaked with sweat and his teeth rattling from the fever chill of chemotherapy and the terror of seeing himself die repeatedly in his dreams. It took all that for him to say it, “Those kids were right. It’s effort, not result. It’s trying, God, what a great human being I could have been if I’d had this awareness back then.”
In an era where winners and losers are defined by the final score or the bottom line, is it any wonder that leaders today get caught up in the trap of believing that the end game is all that matters? As a result, the final score or bottom line is the all-consuming obsession that shapes the leader, his company, and its future.
Have you fallen into the trap of being more concerned about the bottom line than the process of leadership? Have you allowed your worth to be defined by others or by a rubric of success that does not fit? Here are three simple observations that will help you gain perspective about the final score and the measure of your leadership.
What defines you is your passion, not your position. This is perhaps one of the easiest traps for leaders to fall into. It is the belief that when they have a title or a position they will be a leader. A title is just that; a title. A position is place of responsibility. A true leader transcends both.
Nelson Mandela said, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” And this is how leaders see themselves; not defined by the restrictions of a title but by the creativity of their passions. Living the life you are capable of is fueled by passion. Find your passion and you will not have to worry about a title.
What defines you is your purpose not your power. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Before we acquire great power we must acquire wisdom to use it.” And this is the leadership challenge. The trap is buying-in to the end game mentality that says because you have acquired power derived from a position that you are a more viable leader.
What gives you power as a leader is found in your ability to lay it down. What gives you power as a leader is the discovery and practice of your life’s purpose and to serve people and causes greater than self. Do you want to be empowered as a leader? When you find your passion you will be empowered to serve.
What defines you are your principles not your popularity. Popularity is a powerful force for a leader to reckon with. After all, who does not want to be on the receiving end of the accolades and praise of his or her team? A wise leader will discover that the respect he or she earns by being a principled leader will endure long beyond that of a leader who thinks it is an audition for American Idol.
Thomas Jefferson said, “In matters of principle, stand like a rock, in matters of taste, swim with the current.” As a leader, this is what you must learn. Your passion, your purpose, and your principles are what matters. The final score is not nearly as important as how you played the game.
How will you be defined?
© 2011 Doug Dickerson