By Andy Mohler, KSDK Sports
As the world's Catholics await word of who is to be elected as the new Pope, a story dominating the world's headlines, it is apparent now more than ever how much value we unwittingly place on leadership.
We don't often realize it, but in this intensified, global village of ours leadership is a cherished commodity.
We just don't know how to get it.
Think about it.
We've always relied on role models as we grow up; parents, teachers, coaches and other mentors that help shape our way of thinking and attitudes in dealing with the ways of the world. As we get older, we become part of a civic and corporate structure in which leadership affects us from our base of employment, to our economy and the lifestyle we live, to our defense and law enforcement, and all the way up to government and a nation's role in the world.
And yes, for those of us who follow a sports team, the success of that school or franchise on the field, diamond, court or pitch is dependent on its leadership.
There is a huge market out there of people searching for a self-improvement and/or leadership coach to help individuals learn that elusive intangible, and thousands upon thousands of those who try to teach that lesson that people will pay small fortunes to learn. And yet, often it's right there in plain sight. There are lots of successful people to model, and yet it's easier to hold the wind in your hands than it is to capture the true qualities of a leader.
How many times during the course of a year do you read about or hear about a team making a change in a coach or manager because of the need for better leadership? How can a coach fail, or even succeed in moderation, with a group of players, while his replacement turns them into champions? Team captains are (s)elected mostly because of - wait for it - leadership. But try to explain how a Bill Russell won 11 championships in 13 seasons while a guy like Ernie Banks, a Hall of Fame player and maybe even a better human being, never played a single postseason game. When it comes to leadership, it's like former Supreme Justice Potter Stewart explaining that "pornography was hard to define, but I know it when I see it."
Great leadership is as visible as the sun when a team is successful, and in just as many cases a lack of leadership is at the root of an also-ran. Even now, with the vacancy in the Vatican, the emphasis seems to be on selecting the one who can bring the best leadership to help the Catholic Church through a very difficult time in which the faith of many is being tested. It is such a special - and crucial - time in history that the Church seems to be giving heavy consideration to candidates way out of the traditional European sphere; Africa, Asia, South America, even (GASP!) The United States. As traditional as the Papacy has been for centuries, the need for leadership may now be bringing about a whole new way of thinking.
It seems that leadership is best when it is applied in direct contact - the further removed the leadership, the less effective it is - so you want a hands-on guy. Which is why a guy like Indiana's Tom Crean stands out to me, as a longtime Hoosiers fan. He's brought IU back from a basketball graveyard to their traditional place among the hoop elite with energy, passion, a willingness to directly confront an issue, and an all-about-the-team mentality. Yes, he rubs a lot of people who don't wear the Cream and Crimson the wrong way, but those people aren't his concern. He oozes leadership, even without having married into the Harbaugh Family of Coaching.
Leadership doesn't have to be loud and demonstrative. Jim Crews quietly stepped into a breach that could have put the kibosh on an anticipated-ly good season, and the SLU Billikens haven't missed a beat by sticking to Rick Majerus' system. Jeff Fisher brings a certain "it" quality that you could see the minute he stepped to a podium - an "it" that, as likeable as he seemed, Steve Spagnuolo hasn't found. The Blues responded to Ken Hitchcock - an admittedly gentler "Hitch" this time -- but a guy who brings a stack of credentials to the rink. Anyone paying attention could see that Mike Matheny had abundant leadership qualities pretty quickly upon coming to the Cardinals in 2000, and he's proving what we all knew to be true now as the Cardinals manager.
Leaders also know how to cultivate leadership. Tony La Russa didn't invent having a leadership council among the veterans on a team, but it was an integral part of his Cardinal locker rooms that Matheny continues now; bringing young players to a higher knowledge of the right way to do things. Say what you will about Ray Lewis, but his teammates would go through a wall for him and Baltimore Ravens coaches relied upon that indefinable quality. It's a veteran presence of leadership that enforces what the coach is trying to get done, all part of developing a team chemistry, a buy-in factor, that separates a championship team from one that struggles for .500. Or, as the iconic Casey Stengel used to explain, it was "keeping the five guys on the team that hated the manager away from the five who were undecided."
No one is perfect, though. You can find fault with any leader. But to me, the key is the buy-in, the getting everybody on the same page working for the same cause, even when everyone on the team still has his or her own reasons for wanting success. And so it seems the best teams, whether on a field or in a workplace, are the ones who bring their own leadership into play, however minor it may seem. And maybe that's the lesson we all need to learn: rather than looking outside for someone to bring the leadership, maybe we all ought to look within, take a little responsibility for the world around us, and do what we can to make it a better place.
Now, if we just had somebody to show us how to do that.
Until next time...