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I’ve often thought about leadership strength like a maritime anchor. Unrelenting, iron clad, and too heavy to move, the anchor secures a boat firmly in place, swayed only as far as its chain will allow. But as I observe the ever shifting sand of our society, I realize that the anchor, though strong and steadfast, isn’t the best picture of today’s leadership requirements.
For leaders in all walks of life—it’s no secret. We are living and leading in turbulent, changing, and often scary times. Just a sixty second glimpse of any major news network is enough to shake the foundation of any human being.
While it seems the only constant is change, as leaders, one thing will always remain unchanged. It is our first and foremost duty to be good stewards of the people entrusted to us. In whatever setting we’ve been placed, the legacy of our leadership is ultimately defined by how well we care for the people and resources placed under our control for a period of time.
The Anchor or The Keel?
As we navigate a 21st century filled with technology, rapid change, instant gratification, and diverse beliefs, allow me to offer a new picture of the kind of steady leadership we need in our stormy world. It’s an image of steadfast guidance I found, like the anchor, in a nautical place—on a sailboat.
Now, truth be told, I know how to swim, but I’m not a big fan of water. Especially choppy water filled with white-capped waves. But on this particular day I let myself get talked into venturing out from shore. I put on my brave face, I acted enthused, but I was scared to death!
It was a windy day—perfect for sailing, not for my nerves. As we pushed away from shore the wind quickly took hold and we found ourselves skipping across the water like a smooth stone thrown over the surface of a pond. As our voyage progressed I did everything I was told to do—pull this rope, crank that handle, adjust the sail—partially because I had no idea what I was doing, but namely because I didn’t want to die!
The scariest thing moment of the sail was when the boat rocked and leaned. I was hanging on for dear life, leaning back with all my weight, my head and shoulders nearly skimming the waters as we flew across the blue surface. But amazingly, no matter how far we leaned, we never capsized. We never turned over, we never flipped, we never toppled into the violence of the waves.
Why? How was that possible?
There was nothing visible on the boat that could’ve kept us right-side-up. Nothing that caught the eye that had the ability to secure the ship. But it was when we pulled the boat up out of the water that I learned the source of steadiness.
Under the boat was a deep, long, heavy fin that protruded down into the water called the keel. It acted as a counter balance—a safety weight—that opposed the shifting of the wind and waters. When I felt like we were going down, the keel balanced our vessel out. And when I felt like we were going to fly up in the air, the keel brought us back to equilibrium.
But perhaps the thing most amazing, yet powerful, thing about the keel is that it’s hidden from plain sight. It’s below the surface of the water. Boarding the boat, you don’t even know it’s there. But when the storm hits and the chaos engulfs the craft, this hidden feature keeps the boat stable and safe, even through treacherous turbulence.
It’s the keel that keeps a boat steady in the storm.
An anchor, though secure and strong, keeps a vessel on the shore or in the harbor. A keel accompanies the vessel into the waters, no matter how choppy. An anchor buries itself in the sand and prevents motion. A keel stays afloat with the boat and provides stability. An anchor is separated from its ship. A keel is inseparably and intimately connected to the ship’s hull.
As leaders in these times, we need a life’s keel. We need something that secures our identity as people, so that when the tempest strikes—our beliefs are challenged, our plans change, our team faces trial or tragedy—we don’t tip over and crash. But something that isn’t necessarily external or visible like a tattoo or a t-shirt. Something deep within us. Something that others maybe can’t put their finger on, but they can see a difference beneath the waters of our lives. They see how we conduct ourselves, despite the uncertainty all around, and ask: “Why isn’t he crumbling?” “How can she handle this adversity so well?” “What’s different about them?”
So what’s your keel?
I’ve sought leadership steadiness in a variety of places—books, podcasts, mentors, conferences, trainings, my own self-confidence—and while all have benefit and value, I’ve only found one thing that always accompanies me in choppy water, always stays afloat and provides stability, and that is inseparably and intimately connected to my life. My leadership keel is Jesus.
2 Timothy 3: 14-15 (NLT) speaks of the source of steadiness that we can find in the eternal keel of Christ:
“But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the Holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.”
Steady, even-keeled leadership is simply about being “faithful to the things you have been taught” in any and every situation. Times may change, but timeless values do not. And timeless leadership values—sacrificial love, selfless service, and confident humility—find their origin in the wisdom of the Holy Scriptures, where Jesus exemplified a life lived by these tenets.
Leadership steadiness is peace in the midst of pressure. It is clarity in the throes of chaos. And it is possible for leaders in today’s turbulent world when we fasten our life’s vessel to the lasting keel of Christ. He is our lasting steadiness in any storm.
“For physical training is of some value…” 1 Timothy 4:8
He leaned forward and slid the piece of paper toward me with two hands and then leaned back in his chair again, folding his arms across his chest. Finally he broke the awkward silence by dropping a bomb.
“Tim…we’re going to have to let you go.”
Just like that, in a moment, it was over. Years of bobbling around the backyard in JC Penney catalog football uniforms, years of cutting out Sports Illustrated for Kids magazine pictures, years of getting up before the sun to lift, run, throw, and watch film, years of playing the game I love. In a moment it all came to a close.
We don’t like to talk about it, but that same moment is coming for every single athlete who sets foot on a track, mat, court, rink, or field. Sooner or later, it’s going to end. Every athlete who has entered the arena of competition, at any level, will spend the majority of their lives being something other than an athlete.
The NCAA estimates that in six of the most sought after collegiate sports there are over 3 million high school competitors. Across those six sports, just 6.25%, or a little over 187,000 student-athletes will continue their career beyond high school. And of these 187,000 fortunate enough to compete at the college level, only 3.42%, or just fewer than 5,000 athletes, will compete professionally.
With the options available in youth, scholastic, and travel athletics today, competing is often taken for granted as a right rather than a privilege, but being an athlete is far from something one is entitled to. The opportunity to be an athlete is a wonderful gift that is fleeting, short-lived, and if done well, an incredible chance to prepare for success in life.
At Next Level Performance our coaches and support staff are equipped and committed to help every athlete with aspirations of being a part of the 6.25% or the 3.42% achieve their dreams. Our talented team has competed at the highest levels and we know the path to success. But as we relentlessly help all our student-athletes pursue their goals, we do so with a higher ambition surrounding all we do.
Building the complete person.
While every single student-athlete has unique gifts, talents, skills, and personalities, all have three things in common. Each was created with a body, a mind, and a spirit, which we like to call “the heart.” These three elements of a human being – physical, mental, and heart – shape all that we are and all that we do in our lives.
Every time an athlete enters training or competition, the task at hand has them captured physically as they exert themselves toward the prize of running, kicking, throwing, catching, swinging, or jumping. The task at hand also has them captured mentally as they focus their minds on learning a new skill, reacting to an opponent, or adjusting to a change in conditions.
But body and mind are only two-thirds of the equation. What about the heart? What about the whole person? How do we impact the trajectory of a life, not just the temporary success of an athletic career?
Herein lies the opportunity being seized by Next Level.
While we have an athlete’s captive attention mentally and physically, we are adding the third and most crucial part of each athlete into their training and preparation. We are capturing their heart. How?
We believe finding purpose and building leadership starts with looking in, and then proceeds and grows by looking out. Every performance training session, sport-specific training session, travel team practice, and Beyond The Game conference includes a journey through the Next Level Leadership model. The model consists of three phases, which are integrated into all our services for student-athletes:
This first vital phase invites the student-athlete to discover who they truly are, what unique gifts and talents they possess, and what passions they have where they can apply their gifts and talents to make a difference.
The second phase is about setting direction. Based on who I am and what I love to do, what are my goals? How can I use my skills to serve others? Where do I want to go and how can I start moving in the right direction to get there?
The final phase is about influencing and leading others. All leadership begins with self-leadership, but the leaders who make a lasting difference impact the lives of others. How do I communicate effectively to earn followers? How do I live in a contagious way? How do I bring others along with me and lead in my team, my school, my family, my community, and beyond?
Physical training is of some value indeed (1 Timothy 4:8), but it’s only part of the equation. Every athlete has a purpose beyond the game and by using the platform of athletics to unlock and discover this purpose, we are building Next Level Leaders that are complete people—equipped to succeed on the field now, and off it for years to come!
Performance approach: The performance approach takes on a near-term focus. ‘Learn just what you need to get the good grade and be done.’ This creates a goal of learning for the sake of achievement or doing something for a short-term outcome.
Mastery approach: The mastery approach takes on a long-term focus. The goal is learning for the sake of deep understanding and getting better. It’s instilling in students a desire to make sure that they understand a skill or topic as best they can.
The challenge we see with the performance approach is that when a student does not get an A or win a game, they count it as failure. It tends to discourage them and seep into their self-definition and worth. While on the contrary, the mastery approach always takes on the long term view of “Let’s learn from this” and pushes the student to continue to grow. A mistake is not a failure unless it is repeatedly repeated—and every day, every class, every training session, and every game is an opportunity to grow and get better. The mastery approach is all about embracing the process and enjoying the journey each step of the way.
In his best-selling book Drive, author Dan Pink outlines that all of us are looking for three things as we work and pursue our goals—autonomy (being self-directed), mastery (improving at something important to us), and purpose (knowing that what we do matters). At Next Level, we are seizing the opportunity to help athletes master their craft—improving at something important to them—their sport—and while we work, we are helping them discover their purpose—building a deep understanding that they matter as people and can use their gifts and talents to benefit and serve others around them.
It is here, in the midst of this mastery approach, that we unlock the power of the word YET.
As we challenge our Next Level athletes to grow on and off the field, we encourage them to realize that they are well on their way to fulfilling their potential—but they are not there YET. They are on a journey of life, and working for an athletic goal and growing as a leader—these are steps in the process of that journey. We want to push every athlete to learn from every experience, and to carry those lessons forward on their path toward becoming a better student, athlete, leader, and person.
Great research by Dr. Carol Dweck shows that when students believe they can improve and grow—they learn faster, learn more, and have a positive experience along the path of growth. At Next Level Performance, it is our goal to harness this belief and instill it in every athlete we have the honor to work with.
There is greatness within every Next Level student-athlete, they just aren’t there YET…and each day they are taking more steps to fulfilling their purpose and becoming all they are destined to become!
CLICK HERE to view Next Level Performance’s Summer 2015 Training Guide!
I had a wonderful opportunity to share my thoughts on humility in the “leadership corner” of my team’s employee newsletter at work. I thought I’d share it with you as a new week begins.
We all need to be reminded from time to time that there is no more powerful posture we can assume in this life than one of humility and service.
Serve well this week!
Seconds remained in the 2002 district semi-final basketball game as a scrawny freshman stepped to the free throw line. His twig-like arms bounced the ball three times as he gazed toward the basket. It all came down to this. He raised the ball and released it toward the rim.
Clang. Off the back of the iron. Season over.
As I dejectedly walked through the dark gym to the bus after my charity stripe failure, the silence was broken by the voice of my teammate’s uncle.
“You’re the man,” he said.
“I don’t feel like it right now,” I replied.
“But you’ve got to believe it,” he fired back. “From now on, when you step to that line, you tell yourself, ‘I’m the man, this is why I’m here.’ But you never tell anyone else.”
Humility gets a bad rap in our society today. When we hear the word humble we think lowly. We think trampled upon. We think loser. But nothing could be further from the truth.
What’s my definition of humility?
Humility is confidence kept to oneself.
You see, humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less. Humility is being secure in who you are and what you believe—but like my friend’s uncle taught me, you keep that confidence to yourself.
In our world at work, humility is being confident enough to do the right thing for the customer every time. And even though you know you’re doing the right thing, you don’t need to boast about it—because owning the customer’s experience is the standard of excellence we deliver daily.
But humility is also being confident enough to ask for help. Being secure enough to say “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” Being strong enough to put others’ needs ahead of your own.
Humility is not weakness. Far from it. Humility is filled with power.
In my opinion, when I step into the office each day, I get to work with the best team around. We get to help customers. That’s why we’re here. But let’s just keep that between us. Because humility is confidence kept to oneself.
It’s Your Turn…share your comments! The most powerful people in life are those that give their power away. In what area of your life can you give power away this week in order to empower someone else?
Strive: The Book
In Strive, former collegiate and NFL quarterback Tim Hiller leads you on a year-long journey, taking small steps each week on the path to making your life matter, developing into the person God designed you to be.
Our lives are short. Together, let’s pursue what matters.
From his platform as a champion, Tim has a natural gift for connecting with a wide range of audiences—from schools, youth groups, and churches, to student-athletes and business leaders. Submit a speaking request to invite Tim to inspire your group, team, or organization.
Next Level Performance
Co-founded by Tim Hiller, Next Level Performance develops the total athlete through elite sports performance training, club teams, and Beyond The Game™ Conferences. NLP’s proprietary leadership development process helps student-athletes succeed, both now and in the future.