How to Energize Your Leadership Life

The coolest thing happened to me last night! My wife had a meeting and rather than sit at home in my office, she dropped me off at the local Starbucks. So I am sitting outside (a benefit of living in Florida) having a hot chai tea latte (my personal favorite), grading some papers for an Executive Coaching class I am teaching. I had graded about 12 papers and my eyes were starting to cross when an older gentleman sat down at the table next to mine.

I know better than to make eye contact. When you make eye contact, that is when they start talking. Even thought I had completed what I needed to get done, I had a chance to get ahead in the class. I had work to do. Just stay focused, Scott, you can do it. Just don’t look up.

But the words of my pastor’s sermon jumped into my mind at that very moment “the gift of Christmas is found in the margins." The point of his sermon last Sunday morning was that even when it looks like all is lost and you have no power of your own to provide, God is in the margins. Christmas is a time for hope because 2000 years ago the Romans had such powerful rule over all the people they had lost hope.  Then, in the middle of the night, in a Bethlehem stable, HOPE showed up in the margins. God acted because he cared. I was thinking to myself, “Scott, how much do you care?"

…And as I was having this thought, you guessed it...

I looked up!

“You live around here?" the old-timer asked.

That was it. I was done for the night. Turns out he was a real talker. We spent the next 45 minutes together of which I asked 3 questions and he talked the entire time. And what a glorious night it turned out to be! Turns out he was a football coach from central Ohio down in Florida for Christmas with his daughter. He started in the high school ranks and worked his way up the coaching ladder. He has spent time with and coached for some of the all-time greats: Bo Schembechler, Tommy Tuberville, and even spent some time in the Canadian professional league.

I honestly could have listened to him all night. He had such a neat perspective on both football, coaching, and life.

Leadership Lessons

Here are my three big take-a-ways from my conversation with the old coach.

  1. There is only one letter difference between "hire" and "fire." No matter which you are experiencing, there is probably some “ire” in each. Do the very best job you can with the job you have today. Hold everything loosely, because you never know when you could lose your job, even when you have a winning record. If you get a new job, there are others who wanted it and some of them might still be on the team.
  2. Professionals don’t need your advice. At the end of the day, the professional (football player or insert whatever noun you wish) gets paid for how they perform. Period. They are ultimately responsible for the decisions they make that affect their overall performance. There is too much victim mentality today. Too many people think they are entitled to something they haven’t put an ounce of effort into. Professionals might want you to help them think through something, or get some perspective, but don’t ever be fooled into thinking they want your advice.
  3. The end will come. One of my questions for him was, “In hindsight, would you do it again?” Without flinching or even much thinking, he said, “Without question!" He said, “I have this tablet thing at home (and I am dying laughing on the inside), and I get messages from other coaches, from past players, even from kids in my English class. They say, "Hey coach, good to see you are still alive. Did you see that game last night between Clemson and Virginia Tech?”

Then came one of the only pauses in roughly 45 minutes of conversation …

“Do it again…I would not have done anything else.”

In rather dramatic fashion, my wife pulls up in the old Kia Sorento to pick me up.

As I thanked him for the lively conversation and started to walk back to the car it hit me right between the eyes: God had shown up in the margin, but not as I had originally intended it.

My original idea was to show up and be some margin in this guys life. After all, he was older and all alone.

Turns out, I could not have been more wrong. Turns out I was the one who needed the blessing of someone else's company.

I don’t even know the old coach's name. For all I know maybe he wasn’t even a football coach. But I am really thankful he took the time to show up and provide some light into the margins of my life.

Homework

Maybe you know someone in your organization who is feeling marginalized. Maybe there is someone who needs a 45 minute Starbucks conversation. Even though you don’t have time, maybe what you need to do is stop and recognize that they are human too. Who knows, maybe you will be the one who ends up with the blessing. Merry Christmas!