It’s football season again! I don’t know about you, but this is one of my favorite times of the year. Soon the heat will wane, the air will feel a little crisper, and every weekend at least two teams will match up to throw some pigskin up and down a football field.
I’m so proud of our football team at Southeastern. They play their hearts out, and I’m proud to wear the school colors in support of them. Truthfully, our players inspire me. This isn’t just a game for them; it’s an opportunity to win. That kind of attitude will shape their future.
No one buys a ticket to see a one-man football team.
Football is a team sport. A one-man football team would be odd, wouldn’t it? It would be impossible for one player, no matter how talented and skilled, to play every position and win against an opposing team. In fact, if anyone ever tried to do that, they would be considered a joke. (Can you imagine the ESPN reels and the newspaper headlines?)
The key to winning a football game is teamwork. Everyone has a role and position to play. Each team member has the chance to lead out. And everyone on that field is supporting the quarterback. No one person wins any game by themselves. And even if you could, it wouldn’t be any fun. There wouldn’t be anyone at the end of the play to celebrate and encourage.
One person isn’t enough to win big.
Leadership isn’t a one-person sport. It’s a commitment to leading a community of people toward a shared vision. And that’s precisely why you shouldn’t try to be a lone ranger and do it alone.
One of my favorite leadership experts is John Maxwell. In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, he explains that one person isn’t enough to accomplish a big vision. In a recent blog post, he wrote, “The most effective leaders stay connected to their people.”
True leadership stands in contrast to acting like a lone ranger.
Just like football, leadership and lone rangers don’t mix well. A leader must never withdraw from the people he or she leads. There must never be too much distance between you and your team. Otherwise, as John says, you appear to be taking a walk instead of leading.
Let me offer you five reasons why true leadership is nothing like being a lone ranger:
- Leadership, by definition, means others are following you. I’m not talking about fans or groupies. I’m talking about having people who depend on you for direction, and you equally depend on them to achieve a shared goal or vision. This is inconsequential for a lone ranger.
- Leaders understand their decisions impact the lives of others. This is a huge responsibility to carry. Lone rangers can make quick and immediate decisions because they don’t need to take into account how their decision might affect someone else.
- Leadership is about interdependence. That’s what turns a group of people into agents of change. You will be much more powerful and successful as a leader when you have interdependent relationships with those you lead. Lone rangers miss out on shared victories and celebrations; they also miss out on a support system when things don’t go so well.
- Leaders reach for goals that are impossible to achieve on their own. Your vision should require you to find others to work with you to bring that vision into reality. Lone rangers, on the other hand, only need to concern themselves with what matters to them.
- Leaders understand they need the skills and talents of others to get where they want to go. I’m not talking about using people. I’m talking about recognizing your personal limits and looking to fill in those gaps with talented people on your team. Lone rangers never try to accomplish something that is beyond themselves because they only have and need themselves.
There is a lot to be learned about life and leadership from college students on a football field.
They practice together. They wear the same uniform. They agree to abide by the same playbook. They call the same people coaches. And they learn to depend on every person to win as often as possible.
I wish I could bottle up such untamed enthusiasm and unwavering commitment to operating as a team. Those two things will help prevent bad leadership habits. Even our Creator never intended for you and me to do life alone. If that’s true, then why do we think it’s OK to try to lead alone?
If you want to change yourself, go on a personal retreat. If you want to change the world, you’ll need more than yourself to do it.
REFLECT: Have you stunted your leadership and influence because you’ve been trying to play every position on the field? Are you tired and exhausted from trying to accomplish important things instead of investing in others to help you get there? Does your leadership style foster community or minimize it?