Leadership Hinges on Love

This is written with passion…to anyone, like myself, who is in leadership. If you are a parent, employer, neighbor, coach, teacher, pastor, principal, older sibling, or friend…you are in leadership.

It is amusing to me how often people discount their responsibility as a leader. Some people think they influence no one…but that just isn’t true. If you interact with people, you influence. It is how you see it, embrace it and take responsibility for it that creates the impact–be it negative or positive. If everyone were honest, they would tell you they want to be a “positive, influential leader!”

I have studied leadership for two decades now and the one aspect that stands out to me is the need for parents, teachers, coaches, etc. to realize that the “kids” they are leading do grow up and become adults. They will give a testimony to the leadership they have experienced. Kids, for the most part, are very honest about their experience. It is very “telling” to ask them as they mature about the leadership experiences in their lives and its influence on them.

As I have mentored many kids who are now in their late teens and early 20’s, many of whom are college athletes, I’m amazed at some of the things they say about people who have been in leadership roles in their lives. “Verbal abuse” and “passive aggressive” behavior is prevalent. Kids are smart. They can tell instantly who is sincere and truly cares and those who don’t.

One of the most shocking things I have learned is how quickly respect is lost….when leaders don’t keep their word or their actions don’t line up with what they say. Overwhelmingly college athletes tell me that the “coach” during recruiting disappears once they are on the team.

Recently I asked our kids, now all in their early 20’s, who influenced them the most as they grew up. Overwhelmingly and independently from each other, their answer was those leaders who showed love and affirmation. Thomas noted that when he didn’t perform well on a test or on the course, it was the teacher or mentor who came alongside him to offer help and encouragement. Those who didn’t criticize but offered help when he was down. It wasn’t the ones who ignored him–as if he didn’t exist when he didn’t perform.

He made a comment on the way home from Clemson this past weekend when I was concerned about Cole Stout. He said that Coach Swinney would take care of Cole noting that the best coaches in the world are the ones who come and offer love, acceptance, and encouragement when you don’t play your best! He said Coach Swinney is known for that. He noted the people who play well are not the ones that need the coaching or encouragement. It is the ones who, for whatever reason, have fallen short.

I asked him, “Who in your life is like that?” He mentioned his first grade school teacher, Thelma Graham, and his kindergarden teacher, Sam Reed. Take note: Thomas is 22 years old. He still talks about how much they helped him in school when he struggled with high or low blood sugar. Ms. Graham would stay after school when he had a bad day and help him catch up!

Both Ms. Graham and Sam Reed still make contact with Thomas. Ms. Reed dropped by our house recently to drop off canned green beans from her garden–she knew they were Thomas’ favorite. He also mentioned Curt Sanders, Fred Wadsworth, Harry Huntley and Hank Smith who have all been involved in his golf for a very long time. He noted how encouraging and positive they were even when things weren’t going well.

Brewer mentioned Jeff Scott and Brad Scott, football coaches at Clemson, who still encourage him to this day. Brewer did not play football, but they were the first to encourage Brewer in athletics, academics, and in life while he was at Clemson. Then there were teachers like Chris Bumgarner who taught English to 2 of our 3 kids at AC Flora High School. To this day, Chris reaches out and encourages Thomas and Collins. Carla Gourdine, Collins’ English teacher during her junior year in high school, and the attendance keeper at Flora, Jacinda Mc Duffie, have kept up with Collins her entire time at UGA.

Bill even commented about his coach, Jim Carlen, who recruited him to Carolina 34 years ago. Even though Coach Carlen was only at USC for Bill’s first year, up until 3 years ago Bill heard from Coach Carlen often. He would just call and check on Bill and our family! Coach Carlen passed away but if he were still alive and in good health, I am certain Bill would still be hearing from him. These are leaders. People who care long after their “job” is done.

Take note: we all leave a legacy as a leader and make an impact daily.

I could write and write and write about this subject. Jesus was the greatest leader of all time. I love the story in the Bible about the “shepherd going after the one lost sheep….!” That is the character of Jesus. He is referred to in Scripture many times as “the Shepherd!” Jesus goes after lost sheep…ones who have wandered or are not “performing” according to their gifts. He cares intimately for everyone…after all, He created everyone.

His desire is to love unconditionally….no matter if you stumble and fall. He is always there to pick you up and bring you back into the fold. That is the best Leadership model in the world! Unconditional love, not based on performance, but based on your value as a person. Remember, too, God’s greatest commandment is love!

Matthew 22:35-40, “One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”

Leadership is important to God. We are all created to lead in some respect. Those of us in leadership positions are held accountable before a Holy God. I believe if you are not loving, you are not living or leading! Jesus is our model. Ask yourself, “What kind of legacy am I creating as a leader?”

More importantly, go ask the people you have led. Start with the least successful person who has been under your leadership. It is there you will find your answers on how to improve your leadership. The questions is–do you really want to know? Truth is the only thing that leads to improvement as a leader is to be brave and ask the right questions to the right people!

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