by Pat Williams
Editor’s Note: In 2010 Standard Publishing released The Leadership Wisdom of Solomon by Pat Williams, senior vice president of the NBA’s Orlando Magic. The following excerpt from Williams’ book shows how love and authority work together to impact peoples’ lives.
My friend Jay Strack is a renowned speaker, author, and president of Student Leadership University, an organization that equips and empowers young people to become leaders. Jay has spoken at many chapels for pro sports teams. Years ago, when the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers were coached by Tony Dungy, Jay accepted an invitation to conduct a pregame chapel for the Bucs. Arriving early, Jay found the room where the chapel would be held. The room was empty except for a man setting up chairs.
“Excuse me,” Jay said, walking into the room. “I’m Jay Strack.”
Jay extended his hand. “Coach Dungy?”
“Yes, I’m Tony Dungy. Thanks for coming. I’m just setting up the room for you.”
Jay was amazed that the head coach was setting up chairs. “Let me help you,” he offered.
“No thanks,” Dungy said. “I like to do this myself. I know where each man sits.
I know what each one’s going through and where he’s hurting. I pray over each man’s chair as I set it up.”
When Jay shared that story with me, I thought, That says a lot about Tony Dungy. I’ve heard many stories about Coach Dungy—how his players look up to him as a mentor and father figure, how he motivates them without screaming or cursing at them, how his players love him, and how he loves them. Tony Dungy amassed a career record of 139–69–0 (.668) and a victory in Super Bowl XLI. He was successful not merely because he is a master football strategist but because his players were motivated to go above and beyond for him. They were motivated by love for the leader who loved and cared about them.
Solomon wrote, “Love and truth form a good leader; sound leadership is founded on loving integrity” (Proverbs 20:28, The Message).
Retired NFL tight end Chad Lewis played for the St. Louis Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles. Though he played only half a season with the Rams, he has high regard for his coach at that time, Dick Vermeil.
“I developed great respect for Coach Vermeil that season,” Lewis recalls. “He cares so much about his players. He has every player to his house for dinner in the off season and he cooks for them—8-10 players at a time with their wives or girlfriends. . . . He just cares about every person who plays for him. . . . Players love Dick Vermeil.”
Lewis recalls the day Coach Vermeil summoned him to give him the news that he was being cut from the team. “When I went in his office, he was crying. He had to walk to the corner of his office to compose himself. . . . He told me, ‘I did not want to do this. I love having you around. I know we’re going to win the Super Bowl and I wanted to put you on the injured reserve for that, but the more I thought about that it wasn’t fair to you. I know you’re going to do great things. I want you to have that opportunity. I’m going to do what I can to get you a job.’”
The next day, Coach Vermeil call Chad’s wife, told her how sorry he was, and asked if there was anything he could do to help the family. “Chad’s going to be fine,” he reassured her.
Lewis concluded, “No one does that! . . . And it wasn’t just me; [Coach Vermeil] was like that with his players.”
One of the most important qualities a leader can have is genuine love for his people. You can’t fake love, at least not for long. The way we care about other people and reach out to them when they are hurting defines the kind of leaders we are—and it determines how our followers will remember us after we’re gone.
Many leaders are uncomfortable with the word love. They seem to think that talking about love is at odds with the requirements of leadership. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my study of NFL teams, I’m amazed at how often that word love comes up. Vince Lombardi’s biographer, David Maraniss, observed that Coach Lombardi “had a strong sense of team as family. He was not afraid to use the word love, and he used it a lot.”
I once interviewed former Packers offensive tackle Forrest Gregg on my radio show. Gregg, an NFL Hall of Famer, played for Green Bay from 1956 to 1970, and Coach Lombardi called him the “best player I ever coached.” I asked Gregg if David Maraniss was right about the sense of family and love on the old Lombardi Packers team.
“Oh yes,” he said, “It’s real. It was true then, and it’s still true today. We’re all in touch with each other, and we care about each other. . . . Our families get together all the time. Coach Lombardi built the team on love, and the love goes on. Nothing will ever stop that.”
In the context of leadership, love can be defined as “a heartfelt concern for the well-being of others.” A leader loves his followers by caring about their personal, emotional, spiritual, and financial needs; their career advancement; their character growth; their health; and their families. A genuine leader does not view his subordinates as cogs in an organizational machine but as real people with feelings, personal goals, and family responsibilities.
To love your people does not mean that you won’t have to make difficult, painful choices that affect them, as in the case of Dick Vermeil and Chad Lewis. It doesn’t mean that you will necessarily resolve their financial crises by writing a check, nor does it mean that you will overlook their failures or neglect to hold them accountable for their actions. In fact, genuine love sometimes requires that you discipline them for the sake of their own growth and maturity.
Lisa McLeod, a principal of the consulting firm McLeod & More, Inc., and the author of The Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Resolving Conflicts Large and Small (Penguin Group, 2010), writes,
Love is one of the most effective and efficient business strategies that ever existed. And infusing love into an organization delivers a better [return on investment] than any other single investment you can make. . . .
The truth is, love has been the cornerstone of every successful venture since the dawn of time. From the American Revolution to Apple Computer, the great ones are always fueled by love—by people who love what they do and who love the people they do it with.
Our reluctance to embrace love as a business strategy is rooted in three common misperceptions: feelings don’t belong in the office; love is mushy and therefore unmeasurable; and loving your employees means letting them off the hook. . . .
Infusing love into your organization is just as challenging as infusing love into your family or any other relationship. And you don’t really master the art of love until you stop thinking of it as a noun and start practicing it as an active verb.
On July 4, 1996, I had a speaking engagement in Kansas City, Missouri. As I always do, I took some time to get out of the hotel and run. In a small park at the corner of 40th and Main, I came upon a simple stone marker with a bronze plaque. I’m fascinated with monuments and plaques, so I read the inscription while jogging in place. The monument was dedicated to a Kansas City native, Major Murray Davis, who died in World War I. He was killed in action in the village of Exermont, France, on September 28, 1918. A second bronze plaque on the side of the monument read:
A KINDLY, JUST, AND BELOVED OFFICER, WISE IN COUNSEL, RESOLUTE IN ACTION, COURAGEOUS UNTO DEATH.
And a third bronze plaque on the other side read:
SERIOUSLY WOUNDED, HE REF– USED TO RELINQUISH HIS COMMAND UNTIL, MORTALLY WOUNDED, HE FELL, LEADING HIS COMRADES TO VICTORY. HIS LAST WORDS WERE, ”TAKE CARE OF MY MEN.”
In September 2009, I returned to Kansas City for another speaking engagement. I again visited the now polished up and refurbished monument. Later, I went to the recently opened National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial. I asked one of the guides there, a retired military man, if he had ever heard of Major Murray Davis.
“Oh yes,” he said. Using his flashlight as a pointer, he indicated the picture of a military officer on a mural. “That’s Major Davis right there. We all know about him.” The man has been gone for 90-plus years, but people never forget a leader.
What love Major Davis had for his men! His dying words were of leadership and love. Great leaders love their followers, even unto death.