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In the Shadows

February 11, 2011

Some people love the spot light. They thrive on it, long for it or get jealous when not getting their share of the credit, deserved or otherwise.  Can you think of any examples? How about Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, Deion Sanders, the Kardashian sisters, Pete Rose, or Al Gore, remember Macauley Culkin’s father?   Could not Donald Trump or John Lennon (who thought he & the Beatles  were “more popular than Jesus Christ”?)   Virtually most any politician can be applied/labeled as this type of person?  This is not to say all these folks are not deserving of notoriety or shouldn’t be recognized for their talents, but these individuals just can’t/couldn’t live in the shadows.   Would you consider any of these people great leaders however?… or merely self -promoters, entrepreneurs and self -absorbed characters?

On the flip side, can you think of a few top performers that steer clear of the limelight & prefer to live in the shadows.  Tim Duncan, Barry Sanders, Cal Ripken, Dirk Nowitzki, Jerry Rice, Sam Walton, Warren Buffet, John Wooden, Bill Belichick, and Harry Truman are/were just a few personalities that come to mind when I think of people that get/got results, made the most of their teams, utilized a system & prefer to share the credit.

 Excuse me if many of my above examples are sports oriented figures.  Having grown up playing & loving sports, you can imagine my point of reference. Too many of America’s top athletes and coaches are often said to be bigger than the game they play.  This however is not about type A or type B personalities.  I do not believe this has anything to do with being extroverted or introverted either.  All the names mentioned above are/were fierce competitors, with a drive to achieve excellence. 

My quandary is which group are better leaders?   Whose excellence are/were they striving to maximize?  I actually think it’s a no brainer, but you are welcome to your opinion.  So another potential conclusion or assumption is, “The best leaders  live in the shadows”. Their team, staff, management, all knows they are the ‘difference makers’, and that is all that matters.

Let’s look at this from another point of view.  As a parent, do you live in the shadows of your children or are you out in front pulling them along.   How many times have you seen coaches at soccer or baseball games living their lost dreams though their children?  These folks aren’t in the shadows; to the contrary, they are overshadowing their child.  Not everyone is leadership material,…  but our kids, and even staff at work as well as the roundtable of managers reporting to a CEO or President  aren’t looking for mere managers, they want leaders!  People who inspire, encourage and help get the most of their ‘team’ every day , not just this fiscal quarter.

Let’s look a little deeper at a few names above. Pete Rose, was a great baseball player, only an average manager, but no leader.  To this day, he sits in stores making people pay for his autograph.  It’s really sad that this guy can’t fathom to live in the shadows.  How many former players have openly said he was not a great teammate, and no team leader.  His nickname was “Charlie Hustle”.  He always gave 100% effort.  He definitely lead by example, but that sounds much more like a sole proprietor of their own little store/business.  They need to be in control.  They seek perfection and believe it’s up to them alone to make sure it’s done right.  No real trust or reliance on teammates.  Not truly leading by example but what they deem necessity since they can’t even imagine anyone else doing their job as good.

Donald Trump has his show, The Apprentice…  “You’re Fired.”  A great deal of leadership there!  I do not question the financial knowledge & business savvy of Mr. Trump.  He is the ultimate entrepreneur and businessman.  He is not afraid to take a chance.  He does a great job minimizing his risk, but “The Donald” and his hair has never met a camera he didn’t like to stand in front of.  A great leader doesn’t have to be the smartest man in the room.   I can’t picture Donald Trump accepting that.  If I give anyone the benefit of the doubt here, it must be Mr. Trump.  This could all be a public persona he uses to improve his name & marketability.  I just can’t imagine Trump in the shadows.

Deion Sanders is a Hall of Fame football player & accomplished baseball player. He is also a ‘mentor’ in his own words, to several up and coming NFL players. Deion is also a dad that coaches peewee football with his son on the team.  ESPN the Magazine ran an article (3/22/10), highlighting the issues that new stars and high profile college football players go through.  Enter the mentor, Deion Sanders, who is always in the lime light & passing words of wisdom to these future stars.  In the same article, he publicly berates his son at a pee wee football game.  Hey, I’m all about winning, but I don’t expect a coach, let alone a father to verbally ‘tar & feather’ his 8 year old son in front of all his teammates & parents after a fumble on a game they are winning  38-12.  Why did he do it?  Because “We don’t make those kind of mistakes on the football field & we don’t cry, go back to your momma!”  Wow, what a mentor & leader!  You know what he said his greatest contribution to the game has been? – “Fashion!”  Does anyone remember when his MLB team won the World Series?  Remember his reaction & classless abuse of Tim McCarver.  No respect for his team, It’s all about Deion!

What do you think of my putting Barry Sanders in the other listing.  Some people would call him a quitter.  He arguably retired in the prime of his career.  Sanders however had convictions; he wasn’t concerned about the money he could earn, or records he would have no doubt eclipsed.  Unlike so many Professional athletes & Presidents/CEO’s, Barry Sanders knew when to walk away.  Brett Favre, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, none of these all-time great players knew when to walk away.   Does anyone remember what Barry Sanders would do after he scored a touchdown? He would hand it to the official. What a novel idea!  Set the example, it’s a team sport. He didn’t want to be bigger than the game or his team, he was the ultimate team player.

John Wooden, Bill Belichick, & Vince Lombardi were three great coaches that have won multiple championships.  Yes, they did have some great players on their teams, but the fact is… they made their players great.   They have rules & guidelines, as well as, a system that they had their teams follow.  These gentlemen are/were brilliant in their approach.  They stayed in the shadows, allowing their teams & players to shine.  Read Vince Lombardi’s biography,  When Pride Still Mattered. Everyone knows that Lombardi was a great football coach, but he also turned around a perennial poor high school basketball team into champions within 2 years.  He knew nothing about basketball!  He read a book on the subject from 1935, (That was when teams would have a jump ball after every basket.) The book was out of date, but Lombardi learned the basics and knew how to lead & inspire.  Lombardi’s best known saying, “Winning isn’t everything, It’s the only thing!”… It was also one of his biggest regrets, having said that.

As a father, I try to live in the shadows of my children.  I do the same with my wife.  I was fortunate to marry way over my head.   I’m very happy to lead from the rear, so to speak.  I don’t want to stifle the dreams or creativity of my ‘home team’.   Likewise at work,  I have repeatedly been thrust into a Change Agents role, to  turnaround underperforming businesses.  The role a true leader is to surround themselves with more talented people & find the niche for each of the players while providing a unifying vision & direction for the entire team.   As a parent, don’t we plan for the future.  It’s a long term job that we do for love and the benefit of our team, family, players! 

The mode / tenure for corporate executives are 2-5 years. WHY? Because they make their own bed & live to that short term expectation striving for the limelight in what they consider security, in lieu of boldly taking a long term approach, laying it out for all stakeholders to understand from day one. They have  2-5 years to make a name for themselves in the limelight, far from the shadows.  I know Corporate America & big business have many daily pressures & different stakeholders to appease.  Ego’s rule the day in too many corporate offices.  Is it too much to beg the question that if more company leaders & manager’s took a step back, trusted & nurtured their teams while personally remaining  in the shadows,  while giving solids direction and support, …

Wouldn’t Leading from/in the shadows bode well for a more fortuitous long term benefit for all stake holders.   Everyone desires both short & long term wins.  It is my contention that the ‘executives, managers, parents, & players’ that always strive for the spotlight are looking for short term wins… which will ultimately tarnish long term results & memories.  Think about the tangible costs of turnover  & intangible costs of changed strategies and messages to employees.  Call me a dreamer or idealistic.  If you need me, I’ll be in the shadows, carefully directly & watching over my team.

 By Chris O’Connor

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kraig Enyeart permalink
    May 11, 2011 11:41 PM

    Excellent message, Chris. I firmly believe that “living in the shadows” of Corporate America, has been foresaken by Wall-Street – it is very unfortunate. We should all be blessed enough to work for an organization or lead an organization with a long-term view that it is a Team; working together as a TEAM and realizing visions and goals as a TEAM. We also follow this approach in our house and it works well – I could not be a happier christian, father, husband and friend, walking in the shadows. Many thanks and God Bless.

  2. February 22, 2011 6:49 PM

    Chris!!
    Wow what a great post!!! I love your living in the shadows in regards to your wife/children. It brings me back to my son Lucas’ baseball days…. when he was pitching…. I know he knew what to do and the HARDEST part was trying not to correct him from the dug out….letting him remember what his pitching coach told him………….

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