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The Wandering Leader
By David Small, Elizabeth Ridley
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 David Small
All rights reserved.
"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."—Saint Thomas
"You're Fired!" This wasn't something that Donald Trump was saying. It was my boss saying it, and he was saying it to me. In 2010 I got fired from my job. I had been working as an assistant coach and director of hockey operations, and I had never been fired before. Although people don't actually say, "You're fired," instead they try rather politely to tell you they don't need you anymore, it still hurts.
Being fired was one of the worst things that I've ever had to go through. It's like being kicked in the teeth. I remember so clearly sitting there holding back tears, an empty cardboard box was handed to me for my personal belongings, and after three years working 60 hours a week to build the team into a nationally known brand, everything was crashing down around me. My life had been pretty simple, straightforward, without much drama. I felt I was on the right path with my "dream career." I was networking, becoming a name in the game. I was getting work experience with some of the best in the business—Team Canada and the LA Kings. But here I was, 26 years old, going through my first major life-changing event. It was such a scary and difficult time, but as I suspected all along, it would turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. Although at the time I felt sick to my stomach, there was a feeling, deep down inside, really deep down inside that was almost a feeling of relief or joy. It was the Keeper of Great Promise, letting me know I was going to be ok.
Through being fired and countless other experiences in my life I've learned that the more my values, strength, and character get tested, the better coach (and person) I become. In short, the harder life gets, the better I get at it. When I attended Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Saskatchewan, we had the school slogan ingrained in our heads and hearts—Luctor et Emergo—Struggle and Emerge. For much of my life this slogan has rung true.
Each year I search for the perfect book to give to the people in my life who I think are leaders. I am far from perfect, and as much as I'd like to hope, this book will be far from perfect, but it's my hope that through sharing some of my failures in life, this book may provide honest encouragement to you.
Each season that I coach or lead, I find a handful of people in whom I see something. I don't quite know what it is, a quality, a characteristic, an energy. I sense that person has greatness inside of him or her and as a leader or coach it's part of my job to help bring that out. Most recently there was a player in Poland whom I was coaching named Martin. When I was getting ready to leave Poland, I wanted to find a book that I could give to this player. The Polish people who I met and the Polish guys I was coaching weren't the kind of people who would stand up and shout about their beliefs, or bare their souls in front of their teammates. They were pretty quiet and reserved guys who were just trying to work hard and get ahead. I wanted to find a book that I could give to Martin, who was older than me and who had a wife and a family, that would teach him some lessons to make him a better person and better leader. I wanted to be able to leave that player with a book that would be in his own language, and that would help grow that greatness that I felt was inside him. I walked through the bookstore—totally lost—unable to read or understand Polish. I finally got out my iPhone translator and translated the word "leadership" and showed it to one of the sales clerks. The sales clerk took me to a section of the store with textbooks and pulled down a book about leadership. It looked like an old version of the Bible. It almost seemed like the kind of book that you pulled off the shelf and found it had a thick layer of dust on it. I could picture the sales clerk blowing off the dust and cobwebs and trying to convince me to buy this book. Even without knowing the language I could sense that the book was all words, no heart.
Disheartened, I didn't buy the book. Instead I wrote the player an email to wish him well, to offer to keep in touch and help in his future any way I could. As I walked home from the bookstore I thought of all the things that I wanted to be able to say to the player. I couldn't speak Polish and the player couldn't speak English. I thought of some of my experiences and "life lessons" that could encourage him—some stories I wished I could share with him. I was feeling as if I had been through a lot of the things he was going through, struggling to pay rent, working to have a relationship, and wondering how to take steps in a career that didn't seem to be going anywhere. Then it hit me. If the book I was searching for didn't exist, then I needed to write it. I needed to write that book that could be given from coach to player, or from one friend to another. I needed to tell my story, and although I'm not very old and haven't experienced everything, I believe that someone might be able to relate to my story and find some encouragement in it. So, I am writing this book from the perspective of something I would want to share with a player, or even my son, about being a leader and being a man. But I hope (for book sales' sake), old leaders, coaches, and business people alike will find this book useful and enjoyable. Therefore I write this book with some of the things in mind that I wished I could have shared with Martin, my Polish player.
When I was a coach in Finland I had a player that I helped become more disciplined. At the beginning of the season he was averaging more than five minutes of penalties a game—and as a goal-scorer he couldn't score goals from the penalty box. We talked about what distracted him, what got him angry, and what stopped him from scoring. We would go for runs together before practice, or meet for coffee and just talk about things in his life. As we dug deeper into these things we saw it change not only his game, but also his life. His relationships with his family and his girlfriend all became more enjoyable. He was able to lose some of his anger, and, in the end, was one of our leading scorers. When I left Finland I had gotten to know this player and his family quite well. His mother, who couldn't speak any English, hand-wrote me a note in Finnish to thank me for being involved in her kid's life. She wrote a full page, and I had no idea what it said. I can't read Finnish but I still have that note. Her son read it to me when I first got it, but he was embarrassed that his mom was thanking me for being in his life so he skipped over much of it. I've kept it all these years because it always reminds me that when you write something down, it doesn't so much matter what you write, it matters what you put into writing it. I may not be the world's greatest coach. I'm definitely not the world's greatest person and I'm pretty sure I'm not the world's greatest writer. But I want to make a great promise to you and I want you to make a great promise to me. My promise is that I'm going to write this book with heart, passion, and honesty, and, hopefully, like the handwritten Finnish note, that will speak louder than the words. It may not seem like much, to be honest about your experiences and put them into a book, but I can assure you it is difficult. In my first book that I wrote (Small Stories, Amazon Publishing, 2012) I took many childhood stories about growing up in Canada, wove them together into a book of short stories, went through the (sometimes painful) editing and publishing process, and launched a book. I was ecstatic. You could search my name on Amazon and there it was! Then, much to my joy, people started buying the book. Then, much to my horror, people started reviewing the book. What a tough thing it is to put time and effort into something and then have some critics say it stinks. But my great promise to you is that despite the awful feeling of baring your soul, your struggles, your shortcomings to the world, I am going to do it. I am going to be honest with you and trust you with this work.
Now For Your "Great Promise" To Me
Books aren't cool anymore. It's not in our nature to sit down and read. We prefer to sit down and watch. No one likes to get a book as a gift—wait, let me re-phrase that—no hockey player likes to get a book as a gift. They see it as work. (Trust me, I know because I give hockey players books to read every year and I know most of them end up dusty on a shelf somewhere). My dad would read a book a week. I struggle to find enough discipline to read a book every few months. It's my hope that you can read this book cover to cover. Stick with it. Struggle and Emerge. You can make it your resolution to read "one book" this year. It doesn't matter if you're a man or woman, young or old, coach or player or businessperson. Read it on the bus, on the plane, or while you're chilling at home. That is your "Great Promise" to me. You promise me that you'll just keep turning the pages. It's going to make you a better person. It's going to make you a better player. I promise. And most importantly, it's going to mean another book sale for me! So keep turning the pages. (That was a joke, by the way.)
I may not be "great" at a lot of things but I like the term "Great Promise." I have made a great promise to you to try to write well, with passion and honesty. And you have made a "Great Promise" to me that you'll read this entire book, cover to cover, no exceptions. But the last thing that I like about "Great Promise" is that YOU have such Great Promise inside of you. Each year that I want to give a book to a player, it is because I can see he has that Great Promise in him. That characteristic, energy, or quality that I try hard to define, I'm calling it "Great Promise." The promise that he can make a difference to the world, through being an amazing player, or being an amazing leader, or being an amazing parent, friend, sibling, or mentor. You owe it to yourself to keep turning the pages because if there is even one thing in this book that can encourage you to achieve that Great Promise locked inside you, then it's worth the time and energy to read. If you can find hope through this book then it's worth the time and energy to write. That feeling that I had deep down inside while I was being fired from my job, the feeling of relief or joy, was my Great Promise. Although I was heartbroken, afraid, and angry, the Great Promise inside me was stirring at the adventure that lay ahead.
Lastly—a few warnings before we get started. First, I am an ice hockey coach by trade. For the past decade I have been so lucky to be able to travel all around the world because of hockey. I have had some incredible experiences and met some incredible people through this sport. While many of my experiences and stories are from the hockey world, this isn't a book about ice hockey. Secondly, I hope that this book will motivate you and teach you something, even if you're not an hockey player. I hope that this book will teach you something if you're an old experienced leader, if you're a man or woman, or if you're new to leadership. So whatever sport you're in, or whatever setting you're in, doesn't matter. One thing you'll discover about leadership is that leading comes from inside, and as I've discovered through being fired, I can be a leader in hockey, but also in friendships, business, and family. It's not about your job or role, it's about your character, heart, and how you can pick yourself up after you've been kicked in the teeth.CHAPTER 2
It's Not A Game
"Keep on dreaming, even if it breaks your heart." Eli Young Band, even if it Breaks Your heart
"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." Heraclitus
This isn't a game we're playing. This is for real. Life and death stuff. You're running out of time to be the person that you want to be, and soon enough, you'll be dead.
I want to start by putting the ball in your court, reminding you that action is required. In the words of Motivation to Move's Scott Smith, "Get moving, stay moving."
As we embark on this journey of change, we need to understand that we're only as good as what we make ourselves out to be. We all have dreams and goals, things we want to accomplish, things we'd love to "cross off the bucket list," or ways we'd like to be as a person, but no one other than ourselves are going to accomplish these things. I have this idea of the kind of man I want to be. However, very few of us take it any further than just wishing we could be like that. I'm about 15 pounds overweight. I'd love to be in shape with great abs, but until I get up off the couch and do a sit-up, it's not going to happen. When I get up off the couch and force myself to take action, then change will begin to happen. There is an old Chinese proverb that says, "If change never happened, there would be no butterflies."
Maybe your goals are personal goals, or business goals, or maybe it's just "bucket list"-type goals for yourself, but regardless of the form of your goals or dreams, we spend much of our lives and time trying to achieve them. And sadly for some of us, we have given up on our dreams, or are confused about what kind of person we should be or what career we ought to have. In a lot of ways it's naive to be a "dreamer." But, I've chased my dreams all over the world; I've seen and done many amazing things while living out my dreams, from visiting Songkran in Thailand to driving a Harley Davidson motorbike through the Dolomite Mountains in Italy. I haven't made millions doing it, but I'm always happy wandering from country to country doing what I love. My Grandpa (bless his stubborn heart) never did anything because he was "supposed too"-he did what he wanted. Sometimes it makes you a thorn to other people, but it's worth it, as long as you're dreaming, as long as you're the one making up the rules for your life. For the sake of this book, for the 20 minutes a day that you enter into my world, I want you to try hard to dream again. It's sometimes hard, or scary, and sometimes we don't even know where to begin, but just give yourself permission that if throughout this book an idea sparks something in you, that you'll run with that spark. Dream of your future, dream of what kind of man you want to be. Just dream. I think it's ironic that the word itself, "dream," comes from the Old English word "dreme," which means "joy and music," because as cheesy as it sounds, when you live out your dreams, your life will be full of joy and music.
I want to bring up things in this book that will make you dream again, but then it's up to you to take action to make something happen in your life. I will share stories and experiences from my life that may help you dream, but you have to fan the flames when something sparks in you. Stephen Covey said, "Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else lights your fire it will most likely burn out quickly." The choice is yours, but I can promise you that there is no easier time to start making a change in your life, in your character, or in your values, than right now. You honestly don't have much time left. Chances are you've only got about 30,000 total days on this planet, so you better take advantage of them, starting right now.
So much of who we are as people comes from how we're raised. We're shaped and crafted by our parents, and we go through good things and bad things, but all of our experiences as a child begin to craft our personalities and characters. I was born in a small town in northwestern Ontario, Canada. My best friend growing up was my neighbor. We played on the same hockey team, were in the same class, and we did everything together. In my middle school, the kids who played on the local hockey team got new jackets every year. We were only 12 years old, but when we would wear those jackets we felt bigger than anyone else. Just having one of the team jackets meant automatic acceptance into this elite circle. Other kids respected you, and girls liked you. But before I got one of the jackets, I needed to learn how to enjoy the game. My dad was my coach for a lot of my childhood. That's a good thing and a bad thing for a lot of kids. It was a good thing because my dad was fair and knew the game, but of course it can be a bad thing because everyone else thinks that the coach's kid gets special treatment, and sometimes coaches will go out of their way to show they don't give special treatment to their sons. When I first started to play hockey I played for two reasons; first and foremost was because my older brother played, and whatever my older brother did was the coolest thing. The second reason I played was because my dad signed me up every year. I didn't have any amazing skills; mine wasn't a god-given talent. In fact, even if it had been, I don't think I was paying enough attention to even notice. In "Mighty Mites" hockey, I was the kid skating around in the wrong zone wondering if the concession stand would still be open after the game. In "Novice" I started to make friends and was more interested in talking and laughing with my teammates than I was about trying to figure out what a breakout meant. In "Atoms" I started to grow and realized that hockey can be a tough sport and that a coach will make you work hard and he'll yell sometimes; he'll take out his anger on his little group of 11-year-olds.
Excerpted from The Wandering Leader by David Small, Elizabeth Ridley. Copyright © 2014 David Small. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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