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LEADERSHIP AND MAKING IT SPECIAL

There is a lot of talk, these days, about what a leader should do, ought to do, needs to do and do be do! Opinions from mainstream, midstream, downstream and upstream media are as diverse as there are people on the planet. Each stream of thought is equally convinced that their assessment of the ‘leadership’ event is anchored in a compelling, narrow focus of wisdom that drives their point of view. The leadership literature is abundant with personal testimonies, ‘pop culture’ analysis and perspectives that offer a very thin slice of a very large pie. My perusal of the leadership books on the shelves at the Borders in Novi or the Barnes and Noble in Northville reinforce the belief that leadership is more than just a passing notion. I stand guilty as having contributed to that same body of work. However, it is not enough to say that leadership is a complex activity that encompasses people, structures, institutions, timing and events. All of which are true, but the driving, commonly held belief is that leadership derives from some simple, very basic truths. When we peel back the layers and layers of leadership thinking, there is one, inarguable, truth binds the rest of the literature together. Leadership is about creating something special!

There are a number of venues in which to express a leadership perspective. Whether one chooses to use cutting-edge research to explain what happens in leadership, personal observation to explain what has happened in leadership, or subjective experience to explain what didn’t happen in leadership, each venue affords the listener an opportunity to gain insights about a process and, perhaps, use the information to build their leadership skill base. As a matter of leadership research, I have found the personal anecdote to be quite revealing in its simplicity, but compelling in its truth. I remember reading an interview by Chamique Holdsclaw, who after helping to lead the University of Tennessee Lady Vols Basketball Team to three straight NCAA championships, fell short of that opportunity during her senior year. While riding the bus back to the University of Tennessee, she looked around the bus and it suddenly dawned on her that this was the last time that she would be sharing push to be champions’ activity with her teammates. The four-year event was about to come to an end and that she shared in a very special activity with a special group of friends. In her mind, these are people she would know for the rest of her life and how grateful she was to her coach, Pat Summit, for leading her to being a part of something special. When ‘Magic’ Johnson retired from the Los Angeles Lakers, the first thing he said he would miss would be wearing the uniform. It was part of something special that was created during his 12 years as a player. The 1980 U. S. Olympic Hockey team will always be remembered by the statement, “Do you believe in Miracles?” Those players share that bond because it was something special.

I realize that it is difficult to use sports anecdotes to make a leadership point. The argument made by critics of this process is, “Well, that’s the world of sports and it has nothing to do with the daily grind of business.” The world of sports accelerates the cycle of what we see in the business environment. If you pay close attention to what’s being accelerated, lessons do pop out! The ability to create something special is NOT limited to the sports environment, but has direct application to any level of organizational leadership in any organization anywhere on this planet. The people, places and events that have the most consistently, positive and lasting outcomes are those that transcend the normal routine of just getting it done. Leadership is about getting it done in a very special way.

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