One of the first lessons of leadership for me came when I was approached by the guys working for me at the station who asked “why does Lonnie always get to drive the truck?” You see I made the assignments at the start of the shift and driver was a select assignment. Our department did not have a rank of driver (yet) and we rotated or left the assignment up to the station officer. I thought I would take this opportunity to fire up those that wanted to drive so I gave the speech.
I started by talking about the Texas Rangers baseball team. I asked if everyone knew of the backup catcher? No one really could tell me much about the backup. Pudge Rodriquez was the starter and he was somewhat of a phenom that everyone knew. I explained the back up wants to play, but he doesn’t always get to. Pudge played most games (99 to 29) because his skills are a notch above Junior Ortiz, backup.
“It does not matter how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get up.”-Vince Lombardi
I was on fire now, sports examples with direct correlation of desire and performance. Surely I was motivating the guys to work hard at knowing the job and going the extra mile to prove their competence. But the mood didn’t seem to be improving, in fact it was getting cold and quiet. Did they not get the comparison? Even Lonnie seemed to not get it.
They sat quietly until I finished and there were no questions. I dismissed them and scratched my head. Replaying my speech in my head, I started to hear that maybe Lonnie was just favored and popular. How did I know he was any better than the rest? I didn’t benchmark performance. I didn’t layout expected skill sets associated with driving. In fact, I had not invested in their individual growth. What they heard, “we suck, Lonnie’s popular”.
“Winning as a team is better than anything. It’s great to share success.”- Jim Harbaugh
I’ll never forget that day, they didn’t let me by rubbing it in and laughing at my “leadership” skills. That’s just how we roll around the firehouse. After they got over the stupidity of their leader, they continued to school me on what their needs were. I just needed to open my eyes and listen to them.
Since that time, I have tried to be a student of the potential followers around me. Listening to what I say from their perspective, and I stay away from the “Win one for the Gipper” speeches.
Last word; Strong leaders will foster an environment that allows leadership to be questioned. This can be one of the healthiest learning opportunities for a leader, and the team.