Who are the Real Leaders?

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development

Vince-Lombardi-TrophyAs we get closer to the Super Bowl, I’ve got an American Football analogy to consider. On a football team, who are the leaders?  By “leader” I mean who is voluntarily granted the most influence with other members of the team?  Who is the most influential member of the team?

We don’t often think of the coach as the leader of the team, or at least I don’t. Sure, the coach has influence. But the coach can’t play.  The days of the player / coach have deteriorated in the age of specialization.

Many great coaches were former players. Few were great players. Coaches who played professionally include Jeff Fisher with St. Louis, Jim Harbaugh with San Francisco and Jason Garrett with Dallas. None were hall-of-famers as players.  So the best players may not be the most influential either.

Think of the best athlete in any position in modern football and many never even become coaches. Many go into the commentator booth or administrative leadership. John Elway is the President of the Denver Broncos. Dan Marino, Troy Aikman and Steve Young are commentators. Joe Montana, none of the above. Each were great players and many were successful team leaders but they couldn’t or wouldn’t try to turn their on-the-field talents into coaching.

Most leaders aren’t even easily recognizable to the fans. You often assume the leader is the quarterback or the middle linebacker since they call most of the formations and the plays for their respective parts of the team, but they’re not necessarily the most influential leader in the locker room.

Would you agree with me that leadership on most sports teams doesn’t rest with the coach and it may not rest with the best players or athletes either? Leadership, or more accurately, influence is granted from peers to peers; teammates to teammates, based on ability and character.  We don’t have to think long at all to find talented, skilled players who fail to become influential because they’re simply not great people. They may be selfish or egotistical. It take ability (you must pull your weight) and character to become influential.

What other types of organizations can you think of that aren’t necessarily “led” by the people up front? And which organizations might you consider to be better led from within rather from up front?

ChurchI can think of one… the church. Pastors often are totally in charge of everything that happens in a church. But should they be? I’ve been in a number of churches, and it seems many (in my limited experience) do a poor job of developing leaders. When the congregation looks to the pastors for leadership in every area, the pastors and the congregation never seem to develop many leaders outside the staff. In fact, sometimes, they turn people who are leaders outside the church into volunteers and assistants inside the church. I’ve seen corporate CEO’s and department leaders who can only engage their faith by teaching Sunday School or being responsible for grounds maintenance.

Does your church do a good job creating, mobilizing and equipping leaders? Care to share why that might be? Are you a pastor with something to say on this issue? Please add a comment or share a relevant post in the comments below.

Finally, what other organizations come to mind when you think of groups or organizations who are not necessarily led by the people up front? And what do those organizations do to develop more leaders? What should they do? Comment below and let us know what you think.

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Monica Diaz  |  24 Jan 2014  |  Reply

This goes again to the difference between leadership and authority. The “person up front” has authority, and though she MAY be a leader, the two do not necessarily come together. In fact, some say they are opposing forces: the former, searching to keep the status quo and the latter, questioning and challenging the way things are all the time. I agree that the actual leaders are not always apparent from afar. But when both coexist in anyone, up front or not, it is a powerful thing! We will soon see how leadership plays out in the Superbowl. Hugs, Mike!

Mike Henry  |  24 Jan 2014  |  Reply

Wow! You got to the story this morning before I could! Thanks for the quick comment. We all use slightly different terms, but we share a common ideal, leadership comes from who you are. Everything else is a cheap(er) substitute. Thanks! Mike…

Jon Mertz  |  26 Jan 2014  |  Reply

A great perspective, Mike. I believe many of corporations are moving more to a model of not being recognized by the leader “upfront.” With collaborative operating models, teams are gaining more interdependence in how work is done and then determining the priorities by working with other relevant teams. What this sets up is an organization that can survive a solo leader. In some ways, what is created is a leadership organism, growing and expanding in presence. Hmmm…. this could be a post! Thanks for spurring good discussion points. Jon

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