Later today, I have a meeting with the CEO of Giant Impact. They produce the Leadercast event coming to Infinite Energy Arena in Atlanta on May 6th. Additionally, the event is live-streamed all over the world. Leadercast has amassed and distributes an incredible library of content all geared “to help people become leaders worth following.” Each day, part of my morning rituals is watching a Leadercast daily video delivered to my inbox with a different inspirational lesson on leadership from leaders of business, sports, military, and occasionally even faith. You can sign up for free here.
Knowing this meeting was upcoming, I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership, especially with the background of the 2016 presidential race. So much of what I’ve learned from incredible leaders focuses on servant leadership, building an intentional team culture, and motivating your team to be their best. My favorite leadership lessons have come from people like Truett Cathy at Chick-fil-A, Andy Stanley at North Point Ministries, the military commanders I met in Kuwait and Iraq in 2008, and my personal mentor, Ken O’Kelley at YMCA Camp High Harbour.
Every one of these leaders modeled servant leadership. No job in their organization was/is beneath them. They love and serve their employees, who in turn love and serve their customers. When they make mistakes, they own them and don’t pass the blame or make excuses. Just last week, Andy Stanley made a really lousy statement about being selfish if you don’t let your kids go to a big church. It was insensitive and wrong. He immediately apologized and took ownership of the guffaw. Net result: I trust him even more than I did before. We all make mistakes. We all have failures. Leaders own them.
I promise this is not a political. However, I want to contrast two conversations I’ve heard about leadership in the last week.
The first comes from Peyton Manning’s retirement speech on Monday. You can read the full speech here.
Throughout the speech, Peyton doesn’t minimize his own contributions but definitely gives the credit to his family, coaches, teammates and even opponents. Here is a brief excerpt...
In the speech, Peyton uses words like “grateful,” “thankful,” and “humbled.” He doesn’t project a false humility, which would be disingenuous. He projects a humble confidence. He talks about overcoming his shortcomings with hard work. It’s no surprise that the internet is blowing up with praise for Peyton from his former teammates and coaches.
I would like to offer a contrast to Peyton Manning’s speech. This is Donald Trump’s answer to how the U.S. military would torture and kill civilians, war crimes, if he told them to. It is pulled from the Washington Post’s transcript of the last Republican debate on The Fox News Channel.
BAIER: But targeting terrorists' families?
TRUMP: And — and — and — I'm a leader. I'm a leader. I've always been a leader. I've never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they're going to do it. That's what leadership is all about. (47:25)
Imagine those words coming from Peyton Manning...
It just wouldn’t happen. Peyton is a leader, but he is a leader who has brought out the best efforts of his teammates through his own personal work ethic, lavishly sharing the credit, and demonstrating humility. He didn’t have to boss his linemen around. They willingly gave their all for him because he led by example and gave his all for his teams. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't ask them to purposefully break the rules of engagement either.
To start off this week, I put up an unscientific twitter poll on my personal account asking my followers and friends what characteristic they most associate with leadership. Humility was the runaway winner.
There seems to be a disconnect between what we say we value in leadership and whom many of us are currently supporting to lead our nation. I'm not saying Trump isn't a good leader. I'm not saying that Peyton Manning is perfect either. They are both flawed men who have had successes and failures on a public stage.
However, Trump doesn't speak like the kind of leader that would inspire me or my team. Maybe he truly loves and serves his employees. Trump could tell an amazing story of success despite his repeated failures. That would actually lend him a lot of credibility in my book. However, I am just not sure he has it in him. He demonstrates the kind of toxic pride that has been the downfall of many an organization.
Here’s my final thought from a lesson I’ve repeatedly taught my own sons in sports and those I’ve been blessed to coach through the years.
“If you’re really good, you don’t need to tell people about it. If you’re really a great linebacker, they’ll call your name over the PA, you don’t need to tell people about it. Let other people talk about your accomplishments. When you're asked about them, acknowledge those who allow you to be your best, and you’ll earn everyone’s respect.”
If you feel compelled to tell people you're a great athlete, you're probably not.
If you have to tell people you’re an influencer, you’re probably not. Real influencers talk about their influences.
If you have to tell people you’re a great Christian, you’re probably not. Real Christians talk about their failures and their great God.
If you have to tell people you’re a great leader, you’re probably not.
Who is a leader that inspires you?