To paraphrase a little Burt Bacharach, "What the world needs now is many more Captains, Lord we don't need another Coach." Coaches tell us what to do, while Captains show us how to do it. The Coach is back at HQ, while the Captain is in the trenches. The Coach must stay on the sidelines, while the Captain is in the game. The Captain never asks the team to do something they are not willing to do themselves.
I am a huge fan and student of the legendary coaches such as Vince Lombardi, John Wooden, Pat Summit, Stephen Covey, and Tony Robbins, but today we have enough people who want to tell other people what to do. We need more people who are willing to lead by example. Leadership By Example is the only leadership model in America which I believe provides inspired, transformational, long-term results.
The majority of working Americans today have never served in the military or fought in a war, and therefore do not understand the environments which demand a pyramid-style command and control structure. Millennials, Gen Y'ers, and Gen Z'ers especially want to know "why" they need to do what you have asked them to do, as opposed to just following orders. In our companies we always begin each company-wide retreat with a slide of an upside-down pyramid. What I attempt to illustrate to everyone is that the executive-management team works in service of the front-line sales and operations teams, not the other way around. Also, our companies are led by individuals who have been, and still are, successful front-line operators themselves. This structure and mind-set provides our employees with credible leaders whom they respect and relate to as they fight on the front lines servicing clients and driving new revenue growth. Many of our competitors have been acquired by large corporations which have replaced the Captains with "corporate types" only to watch their top sales people leave the company to return to small-firm cultures they remembered.
People want to be inspired, overachievers want to be led by overachievers, and talk truly carries no weight. We can tell C-Players what to do, and they will follow us because they have no other options. But, A-Players want the Captain to carry the flag and show them how to be a winner.
As the leader of your company, team, charity, or household, every minute of every day your people are consciously and subconsciously analyzing everything you do and everything you represent. Steve, the President of one of our investment companies, put a great deal of effort into the smallest items for Captaining this ship. He committed to look sharp and be on top of his game every day, and he knew that he could never "phone it in" on the days he just didn't feel like giving it 100%. He put in the most hours, but he ensured the firm rewarded results and productivity instead of a "punch the time clock" mentality. Following his lead, our teammates learned to be professionals who made commitments and controlled their own success.
Here, the Captains stayed late prospecting with the rookie advisors, sharing the pizza and teaching techniques for building relationships with new clients. While running the company, the Captains also managed the largest client books of business in order to maintain credibility with even the rising prima donnas. They joined numerous civic and charity boards and successfully inspired nearly every employee to also donate significant time and financial commitments. They played on the company softball team, basketball team, and ran the half-marathons, all while proudly sporting the company logo gear and participating in all the after-game celebrations where the real relationships are forged. At investment conferences, the Captains would be the last ones at night in the hotel lounge building new contacts and business ventures, but would also ensure they were in the first row for the conference meetings the following morning long before the other companies' C-Players trickled in. Without us saying a word, people in our company believed that our teammates were stronger, smarter, and more successful than the employees of our competitors.
The Captain's leadership by example becomes a self-fulfilling culture. Why is Duke Basketball such a dynasty? It is because Coach "K" is really a Captain whom people mistake for a Coach. He had initial credibility from playing and coaching under legendary Bobby Knight. His drive, his fierce competitive spirit, his brains and experience, and his class and grace all drive his team to win, and to win the right way. He is the Captain of that ship, and every player and every coach that joins his organization knows they need to bring their A-Game every day just to keep up with him. The legion of "Duke Haters" out there only confirms that Coach "K" captains the type of organization the rest of us wish we could join.
Recently, my buddy, Ray, a former Army Infantry Lt. Colonel, reminded me that the "Captain" never ate until all his soldiers had been fed. Without words, every day he communicated to his men that they were important and he was standing with them shoulder-to-shoulder.
Do you remember in the movie, "Dead Poet's Society," when the students stood on their desks and proclaimed Walt Whitman's "Oh Captain, my captain!" as Robin Williams was being wrongly dismissed from the pretentious prep school? He was their Captain because, by example, he inspired those young men to learn and reach for their dreams. He was not merely a teacher instructing them to read Shakespeare.
The Captain is connected and responsible for the results, including all the failures. I can honestly trace every failure, big and small, in my organizations back to my leadership shortcomings. Whether in my corporations, charities, or sports teams, I can identify how our losses occurred when I took my eye off the ball, when I stopped sweating the small stuff, or when I let up on my personal effort. The Captain also handles the unpleasant duties inside the organization. They call out the troublemakers and make them shape up or ship out. They cull the herd of the C-Players who are dragging down the performance of the team's A-Players. The Captain always deflects praise for the organization's victories, but assumes full responsibility for the failures.
There are enough people in the world telling you what you should do in your business, your school, your church, and your relationships. I urge you to be different. I urge you to summon your courage, buckle your chin strap, pull up those socks, and be a Captain who leads by example. You will be amazed at how quickly, without words, your team bus is filled with the right type of players. And, then it's up to you.
"In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeoning's of chance, my head is bloody, but unbowed...I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul." - Invictus, William Ernest Henley