What Great Leaders Do

What Great Leaders Do


I spent eleven seasons serving as chaplain for the New York Jets.  I saw it all.  I saw great men accomplish great things.  I saw men overcome adversity in ways that are almost indescribable.  I witnessed exhilarating victories and deflating losses.  None of it was lost on me.  I kept mental notes all the time.

I know of no other more competitive business than the National Football League.  At the end of the season, there is but one winner in the world.  Everyone tries, everyone prepares, everyone hopes…and ONE team is crowned champion.  Most people don’t recall who finished in second place.  Most people don’t care.

And after all of that, after you win everything, all that matters is winning it again and again.  You must defend your title or you are cast onto the pile of teams who are not the champion. You are with the “also-rans.”

All of this is in the context of media and fan scrutiny that is unparalleled in our nation.  Leaders are forged in the process.  Without demonstrated consistent leadership, there will be no division championships, no Super Bowl rings.  I saw many great leaders in my eleven years with the Jets.  I saw them turn a pitiful franchise into a winner.  I saw men who led on and off the field.  I saw them lead in good circumstances and during the times that would test even the best of the lot. Here are a few of the principles of leadership I learned.   

1) Great leaders know their strengths and weaknesses and, out of that knowledge, delegate to others. 

They are honest self-evaluators.  They realize that their flaws may hinder what they are trying to accomplish and they delegate for the sake of the team as a whole.  Great leaders are not too proud or insecure to let others handle responsibilities.  They equip and empower those under them.  They affirm the gifting of others. 

2) Great leaders inspire loyalty in others. 

They find trustworthy people and give them appropriate levels of responsibility and neither micromanage nor neglect those under them.  I know that Bill Parcells watched plenty of game film in his life, and the fact that he wanted to sit in the cockpit during flights after games did not mean that he didn’t pay attention to details.  But what it does show is that he had found a way to delegate to men who would accomplish much in their own rights.  Great leaders are able to handle the duties of their position but they find others who aspire to greatness, as well, and find ways to put them in positions to win.  GREAT leaders delegate.

3) Great leaders never settle for second-best in themselves and others, they simply excel. 

They never simply punch in and punch out.  They commit to their cause wholeheartedly, or they don’t commit at all.  For them, it is an issue of integrity.  They need to be “all in.”  They excel in every way because they never want to be “C-“ leaders and oversee “D+” students.  Mediocrity and sloth are just not good enough.  Only their best is. 

4) Great leaders understand that there may be times to remove people from participation because of their attitudes and actions. 

They understand that the team is more important than any individual, no matter how talented that individual may be. GREAT leaders remove the bad apples.

5) Great leaders lead out of a wellspring of courage. 

If they have fears, they overcome them.  They are bold to espouse what they believe in, and that boldness motivates others to be courageous as well.  Great leaders know their limitations.  They find ways around them to excellence.  They know what they do well, and that is their focus.  They know their limitations, and they understand that the authority over them is there for a reason and that only very compelling reasons give them license to go outside of the boundaries.  They know which hills to die on and which to cede.  Great leaders step out in courage.

6) Great leaders know when it’s their time to lead, and they do not shy from it. 

They know that they have what it takes.  They believe in themselves and in those whom they lead.

Great leaders believe in those around them and then build into their lives.  They are in tune with the needs of others, and they do something about that need.  Great leaders believe.

7) Great leaders understand the power of one. 

It is the power of one person standing up for what they believe and making the hard decision.  Often times a leader has to make hard decisions, often, unpopular ones.  Those decisions are made in lonely places and without a true understanding of all the consequences and outcomes attached to them.  GREAT leaders do not shy away from making those decisions.  They relish them.  They pull the trigger, and they pull the plug.  They ride the crest or go down with the ship.  It is often said that it is “lonely at the top.”  It’s lonelier, yet, when you have to make the hard decisions and live by them.

Whether it be Martin Luther King, Jackie Robinson, Winston Churchill, Mother Theresa, or so many others, Great leaders stand up and make the hard decisions.  They make the decisions that change cultures.  They make decisions that solidify the resolve of a country and a cause.  They stand up and are counted to feed the poor in desolate lands.  They make a difference.  That is their legacy.  They are difference makers.  Leaders go forth first and others follow. 

8) Great leaders are the ones in front, the pioneers and innovators, but not just for the sake of being first. 

They step out first because it is in them to do so and because they are confident that their first step is the right one. GREAT leaders understand the power of one.

9) Great leaders steady the ship in storms and then adjust their sights back on course toward their destination. 

They don’t let the ebbs and flows of the journey keep them from focusing on their heading.  They set the course and get people to man the sails. They stand up and point north when any other direction leads to loss.  They are indignant when their heart and will are questioned.

In the National Football League, it’s about wins and losses. Bottom line, it’s about winning games and championships.  That is how success is determined and defined.  That is how you are judged.  There is really nothing else.  You can play well and lead the entire game, but if you lose on the last play, it all is a loss.   There are no points for style or artistic merit.  Nobody gets a silver medal. It is a highly competitive business, and “you play to win the game.”

When it becomes about simply showing up and getting a healthy game check, it’s time to check out.  The players knew that. Coach knew that. I knew that.  We didn’t check out because it was not in us to do so. 

10) Great leaders keep you focused and help you find greatness inside, then put you in positions to realize it outwardly.

They equip you for the battle, and then they empower you to win it. GREAT leaders keep you focused.

11) Great leaders pay attention to details. 

Most good leaders can handle the bigger, more prominent tasks that they were originally assigned to do.  It is the great leader who can notice the small things and take appropriate action.  It is the great leader who won’t take short cuts.  Handling the details properly is often the difference between success and failure.  Average leaders dismiss the details. Good leaders notice them but have priority paralysis and don’t manage them sufficiently. 

Great leaders seek out the details and are proactive to handle them.  They don’t prepare to fail, but to win.

Great leaders manage the details.

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