“De-commit” is not a word

In an attempt to get inspired to write regularly again, let me take a moment to jot down some random Friday thoughts and see if I can tie them to leadership.

It seems that every time a long-time football coach retires, he talks about how he saw his role as a developer of young men. Many certainly have. I can think of a number who have left a long wake of young men who were having trouble with school or the law and turned them into students and men of character who could succeed in life. If that’s true, then football coaches are indeed among the best of models for leadership.

That brings me back to the word, “de-commit.” It’s a word that’s being more and more widely used in the world of college athletics recruiting. I saw it again in the paper this morning. An athlete commits to one school but circumstances change or the athlete, claiming youth and immaturity, simply changes his mind. He then “de-commits” and then commits to another school.

But “de-commit” is not a word. Instead, let’s call a spade a spade: the athlete is breaking his word. The reasons might be defensible, but his promise is no longer dependable. What makes it worse is that coaches don’t stop recruiting someone when they commit somewhere, because they can always de-commit. What a horrible starting point if the object is to develop men of character. That’s what was so refreshing about this story last year about Paul Johnson, coach at Georgia Tech:

A quarterback from Tampa made a commitment to Georgia Tech but wanted to take a visit to Auburn. Perhaps he realized he hadn’t taken full advantage of the lavish attention poured out on recruits during their official visits. Perhaps he wanted to keep his options open. Perhaps he was having doubts. Either way, Johnson warned him that he’d lose his scholarship offer if he visited another school. He decided to call Johnson’s bluff, and Johnson let him go. I think the most remarkable part of the story is that this episode made the news.

If my boys were interested in playing football, I’d put Georgia Tech a little higher on my list because of this story. I desire that my kids grow up to be men of character. And coaches like Paul Johnson know how to build men.

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Another list of early leadership seeds

Michelle Braden, president of MSBCoach, did a webinar in January where she listed another list of qualities to identify and develop in future leaders. I just rediscovered my notes from that presentation, and I think her submissions are good additions to our list of seeds:

  • Interpersonal skills – Do they show self-awareness, show good emotional intelligence and use their strengths?
  • Ability to deal with complex problems – and do they show flexibility in how they deal with them?
  • Ability to develop and inspire others – Are they others-focused? Do they value collaboration?
  • Hunger to learn – Are they curious, questioning and aspiring for more? Are they open to people speaking into their life?
  • Visionary – Do they show an interest in the big picture, demonstrate early-stage strategic thinking?
  • Introspective – Do they think before they act? Do they talk about the importance of an integrated life? Are they results-oriented… for the right reasons? What are their motivations?
  • Courage – Do they have the bility to take a stand? Are they willing to take a risk and stand by it?
  • Ability to recover – Can they take the heat and handle pushback? Do they understand the process to recover from failure?
  • Influence – Do they lead out of relationship, without needing a title?

Mmmm. Good stuff here. Again, I’ll save my comments for later posts, but let me add one more from personal observation:

  • A new interest in taking themselves seriously

How about you? What early seeds of leadership have you observed? We’re getting a pretty comprehensive list here.

The most elusive form of diversity

I think the most elusive form of diversity is age. You only have a limited window to capture the treasure of youth. If you wait to have all your doubts about a young leader’s maturity and experience resolved, he or she will not bring you the diversity you need. You’ll have to move to the next young candidate, who will likely bring the same concerns. The fact is that young leaders are high risk, high reward. Sure, they won’t be the most experienced candidate, but they have more room to grow. More upside, bigger dreams and fewer fears.

In his most recent book, George Barna points out that Jimmy Blanchard became CEO of Synovus Financial Corp when he was 29! How on earth could a company like that turn over their operation to such a young leader? You know he wasn’t the most experienced candidate they looked at. They obviously wanted the energy, ideas, passion for people and leadership potential that he and Synovus became known for. It paid off in big ways. Not only did he oversee the period of greatest growth, but they’ve been voted America’s #1 company to work for.

What are the things you look for in emerging leaders? While you may not get a long resume, there are signs of future success. I’m going to spend some time on that topic in the following months. I think it’s worth exploring, because as Boomers get closer to retirement, they’re going to have to turn over leadership to a generation that’s about half their size. Leadership is therefore going to be handed to two generations, meaning leaders are going to be younger.

One final thought. Eventually, every young leader risks becoming what they hate most: an established leader holding onto power too long. Therefore the most important trait to cultivate in young leaders if you want age diversity is the desire and ability to develop others. Maybe I’m biased, but I think if you want any kind of diversity in your organization, that’s the most important trait to have in all levels of leadership. Looking for that ability should be part of all hiring and promotion thought processes.

Development should never be an add-on. If you’ve put the right people in leadership positions, they do it naturally and organically. The next generation benefits, ethnic minorities benefit, the organization benefits. Everyone benefits when you have developers in your organization. Just ask Synovus.