Tag Archives: leadership

It’s Lonely at the Top, but It’s Not Always Quiet

1My first Los Angeles Rams game came with a free helping of déjà vu when the crowd transformed its booing of starting quarterback Case Keenum into chants of “We want Goff” in reference to Jared Goff, the rookie backup quarterback hoped to be the future of the franchise.  Goff never saw action, but the fans did their best to get him in the game.

I say déjà vu because my wife first gave me NFL tickets in 2006 for a Monday Night Football contest in old Texas Stadium with my great friend, Dave, which happened to be the game when Tony Romo replaced starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, after the crowd spent much of the first half chanting Romo’s name.  It was a little awkward for Cowboy Nation that night, not to mention Romo, when his first pass was intercepted after he ran on the field to deafening cheers.  Romo did go on to a great season, however, but I don’t think that would matter either way to the fans in Los Angeles chanting for change a decade later.

It’s lonely at the top, but it’s not always quiet.

Me, I’ve been a coach and a preacher and a dean, three professions that encounter a healthy share of critics, and I know well the convenient criticism that someone else would have made a different and better decision.

I once read that the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the night he was assassinated are in some drawer tucked away in the bowels of the Smithsonian, and that among the assorted items is a newspaper clipping that complimented the sitting president, which is particularly interesting once you remember his unpopularity at the time.  It seems that even a great leader like Lincoln needed to remember that his efforts were not entirely unappreciated.

As I sat in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum a week ago with my lovely wife and listened to the disgruntled fans voice their disgruntled-ness, I thought about what poor Case Keenum should do.  Backpacking across Europe is an option, as is a noise-canceling helmet.  Instead, I suggest that Mr. Keenum keep an encouraging note in his pocket and continue to give everything he has to his work—I don’t think he has to go so far as to avoid the theater.

For Leaders and Followers

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“I really knew I wanted to be Adam, because Adam was the first man. Ant I chose because, if there’s a nuclear explosion, the ants will survive.” – Adam Ant

It is my great honor to hang out with Pepperdine’s men’s and women’s cross country teams once a week and share a short spiritual message at one of their early morning practices.  Go Waves!  The team boasts impressive athletes, students, and people, and as college students listening to me at half past six in the a.m., they are also generous in not telling me to take a hike.

This year I am generally sharing some message from the Book of Proverbs, which is straight out cheating since I am teaching Proverbs to a class of graduate students in our condo each Sunday morning.  I think even Proverbs would applaud my resourcefulness.  Proverbs often uses observations from the natural world to encourage wisdom, and this week I used its lessons learned from watching ants.  Not the DreamWorks movie.  Actual ants.

Brief interlude for an ant joke: What do you call an ant from overseas?  (Pause for effect…)

Important.

Ha!  That’s okay, college students don’t think I am funny either.

So Proverbs chapter six uses the ant to teach initiative, i.e., it looks like no one is telling an ant to get to work, but it gets to work anyway.  (Translation to athletes: Do what is right without waiting for your coach to tell you what to do.)  And Proverbs chapter six uses the ant to teach against procrastination, i.e., an ant collects food in the summer so that it has something to eat in the winter.  (Translation to athletes: Don’t wait until race day to train!)

But in the spirit of Proverbs, I kept observing the ant to see what other lessons might be hiding there.  Well, actually I googled “lessons from ants” and let someone else do the heavy lifting for me.  Again, resourcefulness!

Researchers at the University of Bristol observed that when an ant discovered a new food source it went back to the colony to show everyone the way.  As it led the others back, there was a predictable gap between leader and follower, but when the leader was too far in front of the pack, the leader ant would slow down to make sure the follower stayed engaged.  And when the gap closed completely, the follower ant would metaphorically give the leader a kick in the butt to widen the gap again.

I think this is important for everyone.  For those times in your life when you are the leader, don’t get so far in front that you lose touch with those coming along behind.  Your job is to bring others along with you, not set a land speed record.  And for those times in your life when you are the follower, encourage your leader to stay out in front.  Your job is not just to follow—your responsibility also includes spurring the leader on toward the destination.

Either way, leading or following, you have good work to do.

A Call to Leadership

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I trust my friend, Mikey, for all things writing-related and recalled his deep admiration for David Foster Wallace when “Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays” was sitting by a trash receptacle when Pepperdine students moved out in May. So I snagged it. Mikey was right, of course. Wallace was a genius.¹

(Note: If you accidentally left your copy of “Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays” by David Foster Wallace by a trash receptacle last May, I lacked the requisite intent to be charged with larceny.)²

For instance of said genius, check out this magnificent description of a New York Times journalist Wallace penned from the McCain 2000 presidential campaign trail in “Up Simba” (an article he wrote for Rolling Stone): “…a slim calm kindly lady of maybe 45 who wears dark tights, pointy boots, a black sweater that looks home-crocheted, and a perpetual look of concerned puzzlement, as if life were one long request for clarification.”

I read that last phrase a hundred times it is so awesome.

So, I was called on to fill-in preach at church this past Sunday morning, which I am reluctant to do anymore but did for some reason this time, and that afternoon I was finishing “Up Simba” when I stumbled across a paragraph that perfectly illustrated the point of my entire sermon. The sermon offered the distinction between self-interest and true love of others as the language of my faith, but Wallace described the same dichotomy as salesmanship versus leadership. So, you take your pick today—politics, religion, or leadership—and reach your own conclusions. Here is Wallace:

Now you have to pay close attention to something that’s going to seem obvious at first. There is a difference between a great leader and a great salesman. There are also similarities, of course. A great salesman is usually charismatic and likable, and he can often get us to do things (buy things, agree to things) that we might not go for on our own, and to feel good about it. Plus a lot of salesmen are basically decent people with plenty about them to admire. But even a truly great salesman isn’t a leader. This is because a salesman’s ultimate, overriding motivation is self-interest—if you buy what he’s selling, the salesman profits. So even though the salesman may have a very powerful, charismatic, admirable personality, and might even persuade you that buying is in your interests (and it really might be) – still, a little part of you always knows that what the salesman’s ultimately after is something for himself. And this awareness is painful . . . although admittedly it’s a tiny pain, more like a twinge, and often unconscious. But if you’re subjected to great salesmen and sales pitches and marketing concepts for long enough—like from your earliest Saturday-morning cartoons, let’s say—it’s only a matter of time before you start believing deep down that everything is sales and marketing, and that whenever somebody seems like they care about you or about some noble idea or cause, that person is a salesman and really ultimately doesn’t give a sh*t about you or some cause but really just wants something for himself.

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¹ I happily discovered when about two-thirds of the way through the book that there is a movie out about Wallace right now called “End of the Tour.” So I had to see that, too. It is a touching film about this talented, fascinating, tragic life that I highly recommend.

² Wallace used lots of footnotes.  I am so easily influenced.