Lead from the Bench!

Growing up in South Georgia, football, and sports in general, was life. Still is. Every season brought a new sport. January-March, we were hooping it up on the hardwood. March-June, track season got plenty of laps. June-Fall, football season was in full swing. Then there was baseball, tennis, golf, and all the other spring sports. Mix in my sister’s dance lessons and literary/one-act play, and you got a mess of action. I still don’t understand how in the world my Mom and Dad (read: mostly mom) got us three kids to three different sports in different parts of town at different times. She also made sure we had all our equipment, held down a full-time job of being a teacher, ran afternoon programs, AND somehow had time to make dinner, clean our clothes and rooms, make lunches, etc. Aside from being a teacher, my mom apparently also was a professional cat wrangler. So thank you, mom; you’re a rockstar. I digress.

It was my second year of midget league football, and we were on our way to playing in the Turkey Bowl, where our district’s teams picked “all-stars,” and we played another district during Thanksgiving. This was the BIG ONE! Well, I went from being the QB of my team to being on the bench of the all-star team. See, I was on the worst team and was one of the better players. I learn the lesson that I would be reminded of many times in my years and still am- being a big fish in a small pond doesn’t mean a whole lot.

I was “Riding the Pine” as they say.

So, being the little preteen punk that I was, I was NOT happy not to be a starting player. I had always started. I was always one of the better kids. WHAT WAS HAPPENING? So, yea, I was on the bench. I was “Riding the Pine” as they say. I’ll never forget the first game during the Turkey bowl playoffs when I didn’t get my name called to start. I just thought, well, the first kid won’t do that well, and they will call me. But then the second quarter came, no name called. The Third quarter, I’m really frustrated. Then near the 4th quarter, I went and sat on the bench. Why did it matter? I wasn’t going to play anyway.

Well, like almost every game I ever played in, my parents were there. It’s one of the things that most stands out for me, and I will never forget the appreciation I had then and still do now that my parents made it a point to be at every event they could for me. It dang sure wasn’t easy, but they made it.

I had spoken with my dad about the fact that I wasn’t getting nearly as many reps in practice as the other kids, and he told me the truth. ‘Well, you aren’t as good as they are, but if you pay attention, work your butt off and know the plays, when your time comes, you can prove to them that you are.’ It just so happens that sitting down on the bench isn’t exactly what we had discussed. I’ll never forget that look on my dad’s face as he strode down the sideline to where I was sitting on the bench. He looked at me dead in the eye and with a “fierceness mixed with love” look that only dads can give that told me to get off my butt, put my helmet on, and get ready to play. Of course, I obeyed, but I had already missed my chance. I found out later that the coach had actually called my name, but I got skipped, because I wasn’t ready.

The next week, during our first practice of the week, my dad showed up. It’s not something he often was able to make, but he knew he needed to be there to make a point to me. I can remember him apologizing to the coach for the way I was acting and said that if he gave me a chance, I wouldn’t let him down. Well, eventually I got in the game on the second game and never came out. We went on to win the Turkey bowl, and I think I played nonstop the last two games of the playoffs.

You can always be a leader, whether you are on the bench or the star quarterback.

My dad was trying to teach me a vital lesson that has stuck with me until this day: You can always be a leader, whether you are on the bench or the star quarterback. It doesn’t matter if your the janitor or the principal. Give your absolute best every day to get better and put yourself in a position to succeed. You are going to get passed over for that promotion. You will lose a project you spent days and weeks preparing. You will not get that sale.

And that’s OK! It’s OK to be upset about it. But what it’s not OK to do is to wallow in your sorrow and frustration and give up. You’ve got to pick yourself up, figure out what you could have done better, and fold that into the next opportunity you get. What mistake did you make? What part of the presentation lost people? Where did you make a misstep? RELENTLESS, honest self-evaluation, is an invaluable part of the process of becoming your absolute best.

Leaders, essential members in any team or organization, don’t need a title to make an impact. They don’t sandbag on their best effort until the best opportunity is presented to them. They find a way to do great work no matter what role they’re asked to play.

If you want to show your boss or the people around you real leadership ability, show them what you can do when you aren’t in the perfect role. Step up to the project that no one else wants to do. Prove that you can lead from the bench and they’ll know you can lead from just about anywhere.

You are either a leader or you aren’t and it’s your decision. Your circumstances have nothing to do with that.

Go, Do, & GROW!