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THE MENTOR LEADER
By TONY DUNGY NATHAN WHITAKER
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2010 Tony Dungy
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE MANDATE OF A MENTOR LEADER: FOCUS ON SIGNIFICANCE
You've got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was. OLD IRISH PROVERB
On January 24, 2010, as I sat in the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium, watching the Indianapolis Colts celebrate their victory over the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game, I couldn't help but reflect on my relationships with the five men who now stood on the podium at midfield, handing the championship trophy from one man to the next-owner Jim Irsay, general manager Bill Polian, head coach Jim Caldwell, and team captains Peyton Manning and Gary Brackett.
I felt a measure of satisfaction that day, knowing that each of these leaders-along with the rest of the team-had committed to a common vision and a common goal at the beginning of the season. The goal, of course, was to win a championship, but along with that, everyone was concerned with raising the performance of all the others, with helping them become better players, better coaches, and better men. Each man had a different role and responsibility in accomplishing that goal, but they had all been united in purpose and in their pursuit of excellence. And now they were able to celebrate their success together.
Not only were these men leaders in a positional sense within the organization-and thus were enjoying the team's success-but they had also embraced the principles of mentor leadership and were leaders in a relational sense as well. If they hadn't established the types of relationships they had with each other and with the other coaches and team members, but had only counted wins and losses, they would not have had the same level of positive influence on each other, and the season would not have been as successful. But I knew these men were good, grounded people, whose desire in everything they did was to make each other better-which, in my view, is a more accurate measure of success than wins and losses. It is also a defining characteristic of a mentor leader.
Unity of purpose and a desire to make other people better must start at the top if these goals are going to ripple through an entire organization. But, unfortunately, the opposite is equally true. I think we've all seen examples of the head coach who sits down at the table in the media room after the game, still basking in the afterglow of the big win. Behind him is the backdrop with the team logo and the corporate sponsor of the day, and as the coach answers the reporters' questions, he uses words such as we, us, and our, but what he really means is I, me, and my. And everyone on his team knows it-from the assistant coaches, who are often pushed aside or belittled in practice; to the players, who incur the coach's wrath if they do not perform exactly as expected; to the members of the support staff, who are treated as less than human; to the families, who are not allowed anywhere near the workplace for fear they'll cause a loss of focus-or worse, that their presence might reorient the team's priorities away from winning games. After a while, people see through the talk when it doesn't line up with the walk.
When a team wins or a business is successful, the families of the players or the workers may be excited for the moment; but when they count the cost, I wonder how many would say that the temporary accomplishment outweighs all the memories missed or the bonds not formed. Or, worse yet, maybe they have been programmed over time to believe that the all-encompassing sacrifice of family, community, time-or anything other than what it takes to win games, close sales, or build a business-is an accepted part of life, simply what is required to achieve the number one priority: winning.
Sadly, such "accomplishment" without significance will ultimately prove to be meaningless and without lasting value. Mentor leaders insist on more and define success in a much more robust and well-rounded way.
MENTOR LEADERS PUT PEOPLE FIRST
Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. ROMANS 12:2
Shortsighted leadership focuses primarily on the bottom line. In football, it's wins and losses and playoff berths. In business, it's quarterly profits, shareholder equity, and sales targets. Not that these things aren't important-they are. But when they become the primary focus of a business or a team, they inevitably result in an organization that is out of balance. Leaders whose definition of success depends on such a short-term focus-and by short-term I mean temporal, noneternal-will one day wake up to discover they've missed out on what is truly important in life, namely, meaningful relationships.
When life in the workplace is all about results and outcomes, it's easy to adopt the same mind-set in other venues as well. Thus, we have parents who scream at the umpire at Little League games, or browbeat their kids into getting straight A's, or harp on the players they coach in Pee Wee football about being "mentally tough." At home, in the limited time left for family, they're tempted to criticize if the house isn't just so or to cram in everything they want their spouses or kids to know, instead of taking time to build the kind of family relationships that God intends.
In our society, whether we'll admit it or not, the prevailing attitude is that the ends justify the means. We tell ourselves that "quality time" can make up for a lack of quantity time and that as long as we achieve whatever temporary, worldly goal we're pursuing, all is well. Just keep climbing. We think our spouses and kids need us first to be successful, and then we'll have time to be an important part of their lives.
We rationalize this kind of fuzzy thinking until we really begin to believe that our example, our impact, and our value to others-family, friends, and coworkers-are measured by what we produce and by the worldly things we accumulate. Our society loves and respects awards, degrees, money, status, achievement, and image. Just look at the accolades we heap upon business tycoons, movie stars, professional athletes ... and football coaches.
But without meaningful relationships, relationships we invest ourselves in, what does it all amount to?
That's an easy one to answer: dust.
If you take only one thing from this book, let it be this: Relationships are ultimately what matter-our relationships with God and with other people. The key to becoming a mentor leader is learning how to put other people first. You see, the question that burns in the heart of the mentor leader is simply this: What can I do to make other people better, to make them all that God created them to be?
A life spent focused on things of the world will not add value to the lives of others.
Instead of asking, how can I lead my company, my team, or my family to a higher level of success? we should be asking ourselves, how do others around me flourish as a result of my leadership? Do they flourish at all? How does my leadership, my involvement in their lives-in whatever setting we're in-have a positive and lasting influence and impact on them?
If influence, involvement, improvement, and impact are core principles of mentor leadership, how can we make them central to everything we do? That's the question I intend to answer in the pages to follow.
Simply stated, leadership is influence. By influencing another person, we lead that person. Leadership is not dependent on a formal position or role. We can find opportunities for leadership wherever we go. Likewise, leadership is not based on manipulation or prescription, though sometimes it may appear that way to an outside observer. By keeping our motives aligned with doing the best for those around us, we will keep ourselves focused on being a positive influence.
I recognize that the world is not necessarily lacking in leadership books. There is certainly no shortage in the bookstores-and everyone from professors with PhDs to "successful" business executives to politicians and entrepreneurs have gotten in on the act. Even football coaches have joined the crowd of voices espousing leadership principles-or at least ideas for winning football games. Many of these authors have good things to share, but most are not other-oriented enough for me. Maybe I've missed something, but most leadership books I've seen are too much about the leader, too much about the "me." Too much about improving the bottom line or upgrading the readers' status as leaders instead of having a positive impact on those they are called to lead. I once heard an executive say in an interview, "Of course I know how to lead. I've been in charge of one thing or another for the last thirty years." It may well be that this person knows how to lead, but simply "being in charge" is not evidence of leadership or leadership ability.
So much of what has been written about leadership focuses on positional leadership, that is, that one's status, or being in charge, determines whether one is a leader. But you don't have to look very far to see examples of people at the top of organizational charts who have very few leadership skills. Think about it: It's much easier to look like a leader when your followers know they can be fired for noncompliance or disobedience. But that type of oversight, governance, direction, and supervision is not what I mean when I talk about leadership-and, in particular, mentor leadership. Mentor leaders understand that if we lose sight of people, we lose sight of the very purpose of leadership.
One's position, or status, can supply part of the equation, but that is only a piece. In fact, many of the most effective leaders I've seen do not have positional authority over the people they lead. In my experience, some of the best examples of mentor leadership come from men and women whose influence extends to people who are not their subordinates.
Mentor leadership focuses on relationships and positive influence because success in temporal things can be so fleeting. At the end of it all, sometimes you reach the organizational goals you've set, and sometimes you don't. But either way, if you're a leader, people's lives should be better because of the influence you've had along the way.
MENTOR LEADERS STRIVE FOR SIGNIFICANCE IN LIFE
Young kids with positive male role models have something to live for, somebody who is proud of them, somebody who cares about their well-being. DONALD MILLER
If you follow professional football, or just read the news, you're probably familiar with the story of Michael Vick. A star quarterback with elusive speed and remarkable athleticism, Michael was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001 and quickly built a reputation as a game-breaker in the NFL. Then, in April 2007, word surfaced that a dogfighting operation had been uncovered at a house Michael owned in his home state of Virginia. Though Michael initially denied any involvement with the dogfighting enterprise, he later pleaded guilty to federal charges and served twenty-one months in prison. After his release, I had an opportunity to meet with Michael and mentor him, and we established a relationship that continues to this day.
Because of the controversial nature of Michael's crime and his later reinstatement to the National Football League, I have been asked more times than I can remember why I got involved with him. I have answered those questions as candidly as I could, time and again, but I want to expand on my answer here because it is so critical to my approach to this discussion of mentor leadership.
To all appearances, Michael Vick was wildly successful-wealthy, at the top of his profession, and in the public eye. But as we all learned, there was more to the story. For all his worldly success, was he building a life of significance?
Leadership, as I believe it should be understood and displayed, must first and foremost recognize that it is not enough to be successful in the world's eyes. I've heard sociologist Tony Campolo say that the world has "switched the price tags," giving value to the valueless while undervaluing the truly important. Accumulating things is highly prized in our society, as are status and fame. On the other hand, the truly important things of life often happen in quiet, private moments-moments of faith, family, and building relationships.
Before his time in prison, I'm sure there were times when Michael thought about what a great opportunity God had given him. I know he thought about his family, his teammates, and the fans all over the country who looked up to him. But I don't think he ever contemplated the responsibility that goes along with a leadership position, whether in leading his family or his team, or in being a role model for so many other young men.
When Michael's successful career was brought to a halt and he had time to think about it, he came to the conclusion that he hadn't done his part as a leader. God had blessed him with uncommon talent, and Michael had used it to rise to the top of his profession. Unfortunately, he realized he hadn't helped the people around him as much as he could have. And he wanted to do that-starting with his family, and then, he hoped, with another football team, if he were given the opportunity. But he also wanted to reach out to all the young boys who looked up to him, who wore his jersey, and who wrote him letters while he was in prison asking why he wasn't playing anymore. Could he still do those things? Could he still have that impact for good?
That's why I chose to work with Michael Vick. That's why I got involved in his life. I saw a young man in need, and I had an opportunity to do something. But more than that, I accepted the responsibility to perhaps provide a moment of significance in his life-a moment that would help him get his life back on track. I did what so many others had done for me-the things that have helped me become more the person I am and the person I want to be than I ever could have done on my own. You never know how these things will turn out, but you've got to be willing to try. My goal was to build into Michael Vick's life what I believe is important, things that Michael himself says he wants in his life-being close to his family, modeling good values for kids, and even speaking out against the animal cruelty that he now knows is wrong. Whether Michael ever regains the status and standing he once had in the NFL is not as important as what kind of man he becomes. Mentor leadership focuses on building people up, building significance into their lives, and building leaders for the next generation.
As you build your leadership skills, it's important to remember that why you lead is as important as whom you lead. Leading for the benefit of others is a much more compelling and powerful motivation than leading merely to get ahead or to hit an arbitrary target. Leadership based on building significance into the lives of others is much more energizing in the long term than other types of leadership. The very nature of mentor leadership is that it endures and can be replicated. As we build into the lives of the people around us, one at a time, one-on-one, we have the potential to extend our positive influence through them into countless other people as well.
Mentor leadership isn't focused on self or solely on short-term goals like wins, championships, stock prices, or possessions; it is focused instead on the longer-term goal of bettering people's lives. And that includes people who have made mistakes, who have made a mess of their lives. Mentor leaders see potential and strive to develop it in the people they lead.
Michael Vick and I have pressed on with the goal of putting his life on a different and more significant trajectory. My primary goal is to build into his life so that he, in turn, can have a positive impact on other young men. Nothing would please me more than to see him become a mentor to other people in his own sphere of influence.
Because of my experience in the NFL and the fact that Michael Vick and I knew many people in common, I had the opportunity to work with him. But most mentoring relationships will not take place in the public spotlight. In fact, in order for mentoring to be genuine and effective, it should be a part of your everyday leadership style. In whatever setting you find yourself, you should strive to build into the lives of the people around you. The goal is to begin building leaders to take your place someday-to build leaders who will be equipped not only to lead your organization or some aspect of it, but also, when they leave your organization one day, to stand on their own and lead and build other people and organizations.
Excerpted from THE MENTOR LEADER by TONY DUNGY NATHAN WHITAKER Copyright © 2010 by Tony Dungy. Excerpted by permission.
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