Leadership Via an Untraditional Source

Leadership does not always come from traditional sources. I had the pleasure of observing what true leadership looks like, over these last two years, via someone who has made great impact on my life in how I try to carry myself each and every day.

But before I delve into why this person has made such a strong impact on me, I think it is important for me to offer up a definition or two of what leadership is. What are some common buzz words that are commonly synonymized with leadership: “trust,” “accountable,” “trustworthy,” “enthusiastic,” etc. Therefore, my question to you is, are these words reserved for team-captain on sports teams, or CEO’s and CFO’s of major Fortune 500 companies? No, they are not. Everyone has the ability to display those sort of positive leadership qualities that many of us seek from our leaders.

Sometimes, a person might be engaging with these ideals subconsciously and not even understand the breadth of the influence he or she carries.

This person whom I mentioned at the beginning just graduated from the University of Missouri and was a walk-on basketball player for two seasons. Walk-ons, if you do not know, are student-athletes who pay their own way through school (not on scholarship), but get to be a part of the team. Yet, being a walk-on is the farthest thing from easy. They can be the so-called “punching bags” of the team who have to do all the stuff the other players might not want to. Plus, minutes in games are few and far between for most walk-ons at the high-major level (D-I).

However, even throughout the highs and lows of the season, or whatever the circumstances were at that time, this individual never wavered in his commitment to the team. He brought positive energy to all of our practices and games, and always took the time to check-in with his fellow teammates, coaches and support staffers to see how each person was doing. The little things mattered to him. Furthermore, whenever one of his teammates scored, you could bet that he was the first player off of the bench celebrating in some form or fashion (he had a knack for some hilarious reactions that make me laugh just thinking about it).

As I observed this person over our two years together, I wondered how a walk-on, who had to pay his own way through school, dealt with numerous injuries and got little to no playing-time or recognition could have adopted such a positive leadership style? But, I realized that he was doing so because he recognized his role, value and the influence he could have on the team. His job, for lack of a better term, was to infuse as much as positivity into our group as he could on a daily basis. He understood he might not play much, but still prepared every day like he would play. Even though his label was “walk-on,” that did not matter. He led, by example, because he saw an avenue to help his teammates, coaches and the program grow.

Funny enough, as our roster numbers trickled down toward the end-of-the-year, this player got a chance to play in our NCAA Tournament game vs. Florida State. He scored a tough and-one lay-up. (I would argue he played the best on our team the whole first half). Now this former Mizzou Hoops walk-on is headed off to Dallas in a few short weeks to begin his career working in the NBA and I could not be more proud of him. This person might not understand the impact he has had on me, but he encapsulated a lot about what leadership is and should look like just by how he carried himself day-in and day-out.

I will leave you with a quote from Jamy Bechler’s “The Leadership Playbook” to round this post out:

“Titles may give a person some prestige or artificial power, but true leadership involves the amount of influence that a person has.”


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