Like the author Randy Pausch stated in his book The Last Lecture, I won the parent lottery when I was born to two wonderful parents. However, they wisely enlisted the help of others when raising me, especially during my teen years when I clearly knew more than they did. Thus I was also blessed by the influence of other wonderful adults during critical times in my youth. One of those was the man who coached a youth basketball team I played on, Jack Lowder.
Like many youth, I loved sports and was anxious to go when I heard from my friends that they were playing basketball at the junior high school gym. We were having a great pickup game when some guy showed up and made us stop. For the next hour he made us run and do different drills, but we never did play any basketball. I left immediately after practice, promising my friends I would never come back.
Shortly after I arrived home there was a knock on our door. It was the basketball coach, who introduced himself and asked if he could speak with me. He came into our home and explained that the team was practicing for one hour each week in preparation for the upcoming season, which began in one month. He invited me to be on the team and handed me a uniform. I was thrilled, as I had never been on an organized team or had a basketball uniform. Thus began my association with Coach Lowder.
In his book “The 8th Habit” Steven Covey defines leadership as “communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves. To communicate the worth and potential of others so clearly, so powerfully and so consistently that they really come to see it in themselves is to set in motion the process of seeing, doing and becoming.”.
Coach Lowder was this type of leader. He nick named me “Little Man” and would often end his instructions to me during a game by saying “You can do it, Little Man.” Because of his confidence in me I could see myself being successful. I trusted his instructions and followed them, and often the desired results were achieved. I suspect that he used this same technique with all of the members of the team.
He made me feel like I was the most important player on the team.
Coach Lowder knew basketball, or at least I thought he did. He was fair and consistent, and did the things that he said he would do. He kept his commitments to us as individuals and as a team. He made us always feel like winners, even though we did not always win. He accepted responsibility for our failures and quickly gave credit to others for our success. As a result he had, as Dr. Covey explains, both “moral and position authority.” His position authority came to him as the coach of the basketball team. His moral authority, which was far more important, came from his having demonstrated both competence and character. Thus we trusted him. Because he showed trust in us we had confidence in ourselves, which led us to do things that we would not have perhaps otherwise done.
May I summarize the leadership qualities and techniques that he used?
- He met individually with me and invited me to be part of the team.
- He made it very easy to join, and assumed that I would, by handing me a uniform.
- He set clear standards of performance.
- His behavior demonstrated commitment, fairness and consistency, thus earning him the moral authority that is so important in leadership. His personal modeling made us want to become like him.
- He accepted responsibility when things did not go well, yet deflected the successes to others.
- He trusted and displayed confidence in us.
- He was willing to stand back and let us fail, and grow.
- He saw us for what we could become, and helped us see that as well.
Those four years of playing basketball for Coach Lowder helped me see that by doing those things that successful people do, I too could be successful. Those lessons learned in youth basketball were far more important off the court than on. His confidence in me helped me develop confidence in myself that allowed me to try things that were just a little beyond my normal reach.
Dr. Covey explains that the Latin meaning of the word “inspire” is “to breathe life into another.” His habit of saying “You can do it, Little Man” certainly had an inspirational impact on me.
May we see in the others their worth and potential, and communicate it clearly to them. May we earn the moral authority we need so those we associate with will trust us. May we then use that trust to inspire them so that they can see themselves doing those things necessary to reach their full potential and become the successful people they want to become.
The message we send should be clear: You can do it!