By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute
The new football season is a great time to consider the question: What difference does leadership make? Considering the number of multimillion dollar contracts being awarded to college and professional coaches alike, some of America's most successful academicians and entrepreneurs obviously think it makes a huge difference.
And they're right — it does! — even if they're not always very skilled at picking the best coaches to lead their teams to victory.
If you follow football, you're sure to see some games this year in which a team will emerge from the tunnel at halftime — after being humiliated in the first half — and just take over the game. Unless someone drugged the other team's Gatorade, this transformational change is due to one thing only: effective leadership.
Maybe the coach or one of his assistants inspired their team to play better. Maybe they saw a weakness in the other team that their own charges could exploit. Maybe they saw a weakness in their own team they were able to eliminate. Whatever the specific reason, a head coach and his assistants were able to significantly increase the performance of their team in as little as 15 minutes without changing its composition.
Imagine what your team can achieve with consistently effective leadership.
Of course, sometimes the outcome of an individual game is due to an unexpected break — even a fluke.
Remember the Immaculate Reception that gave the Pittsburgh Steelers their first-ever playoff win? If you're not that old (it happened in 1972), perhaps you remember David Tyree's helmet-assisted catch that helped propel the New York Giants to a Super Bowl victory in 2008.
But winning a single game does not constitute success in the NFL, the Big Ten, the Pac 8, any other football conference — or in life. Successful teams are those that win consistently. While there are no coaches who are undefeated for very long in their careers, some of them obviously win much more consistently than others. Yet not one of them steps out on the field even once to throw a block or complete a pass or knock down a ball carrier. What they do is all about marshalling the human talent on their teams to perform better than opposing teams do year in and year out.
Ironically, the most important and complex leadership challenges are seldom the best rewarded financially.
Honest and wise football coaches will tell you that being an effective parent is a lot tougher — and more important — work. So is running an effective non-profit social service agency or a healthy for-profit company on which some people rely to support their families and others rely to provide them with important goods and service they need.
But effective leaders in the home or in non-profit or for-profit organizations play the same crucial role that effective coaches play in big time athletics. They help people perform better, individually and in teams, so that the organization performs better. They also challenge and support the people in their organizations to keep growing and improving so that the organization can continue to improve too.
The next time you see a team's performance change dramatically from one year to the next after a coaching change, or the next time you see a team come out of a locker room at halftime and perform measurably better than it did in the first half, ask yourself what made such a big difference.
Then ask yourself what first-rate leadership could do for your organization? And finally, ask yourself about the costs of mediocre leadership — or none at all.
Effective leadership leverages all the assets of an organization and actually increases those assets by continuing to develop its most important asset — its people.
That's why we believe leadership development — especially Christian leadership development — is the best investment any organization can make.
Copyright © 2009 Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute, 208 E. North St., Durand, IL 61024. Any part of this newsletter may be reproduced so long as there is full attribution, our web site is listed, and any electronic reproduction includes a link to our site: http://www.yeshualeader.com.