Leadership Lessons From A Stiletto Wearing Football Coach
Remember the scene from The Blind Side where Mrs. Tuohy teaches Coach Bert how to lead? Coach Bert, barking out orders, and quite clear about his fleeting contempt for young Michael Oher screams onto the field from his perch, “Oher! You got a hundred pounds on Collins and you can’t keep him out of our backfield?” After a few “coaching” words with Michael up close, he heads back to the sideline. Leaning over to commiserate with his Assistant Coach, “Well at least we’ll look good coming off the bus. They’ll be terrified till they realize he’s a marshmallow.” “Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane.” Coach Bert said as his equally as inept Assistant Coach snickers.
Cue the real coach.
Mrs. Tuohy in her fitted skirt and stilettos, like she just exited a Paris runway, steps off the bleachers and onto the field. Walking past Coach Bert and his trusty sidekick, she heads to the huddle. “Give me a minute Bert.” smacking him on the butt as she walks by. “We’re in the middle of practice Leigh Anne!” Coach Bert barked. “You can thank me later.” She quipped, never missing a step. In just two plays, Mrs., I mean, “Coach” Tuohy had assessed the problem, knew what connections were necessary to illuminate for Michael and what motivated her guy; her left tackle.
Physical touch wields power when moving those you lead.
Pulling Michael closer, “Michael, you remember when we first met, we went to that horrible part of town to buy you those dreadful clothes? And I was a little bit scared and you told me not to worry about it because you had my back. You remember that?” “Yes Ma’am.” Michael nodded. Like the most intentional leaders, she makes Michael the protagonist. Michael now has the picture that he is in control. She even gets his buy-in, ensuring he believes he is capable. Real leaders need not to be the hero. Real leaders make heroes. She gave him one more dose of confidence, saying, “When you and R.J. were in that car wreck, what did you do to that airbag?” “Stopped it.” Michael says with more confidence. “You stopped it right!” Coach Tuohy says pointing into Michael’s chest, further cementing the you in “You did that.” Now don’t miss the value of the point. Even with a firm index finger, Leigh Anne touching Michael was intentional and powerful. You see, leadership is personal and sometimes you have to physically touch someone for them to embrace their importance; a transference of power from the leader if you will. I know, I know. Human Resources has everyone scared to touch anyone. To hell with that! I’ll say it again. Leadership is personal. Nothing connects us as humans as much as the power of touch.
To learn more of this social connectedness and the power of touch, check out the July/August issue of Scientific American Mind’s article on The Secret Social Power of Touch. The power of touch, and being 100% present while sharing a teachable moment with the people you lead can be life changing.
Make the connections and build confidence in those you lead.
Coach Tuohy then transfers the confidence Michael has about those situations to his current application. Remind the people you lead of their achievements and capability. She shows Michael that he can be successful and assisted him to see a clear vision of what success looked like. Not only can Michael be successful, he had already done it! She simply traded the “faces” of the characters in the story. Whether trading one project for another project. Or trading one regulatory agency for another, the game remains the same. Only the players’ “faces” change. Momma became the quarterback and little brother became the tailback. He’d been successful protecting the family in the past. So there was no question in his mind, he could do this again. Coach Tuohy confirmed Michael understood and asked just one more question, “Are you going to protect the family, Michael?” And remaining consistent he replied, “Yes Ma’am.”
Now the next thing that happens is crucial. The power of physical touch showed up again. Only this time it’s pats to the shoulder as if to say, “ I know you got this!” Then a powerful directive was issued that only the best leaders believe, “Now go have some fun!” Coach Tuohy didn’t want him to take himself too seriously. Great leaders recognize failure is not fatal. Give people the tools they need to do the job. Then get the heck out of the way and let them do the job.
Coach Tuohy then headed back to her seat in the bleachers. What followed was the foundation for why Michael Oher is an NFL Pro-bowl, Offensive Lineman.
Coach Bert in utter amazement moseyed over to the bleachers, “Ok. What did you say to him?” he asked. Coach Tuohy now back to being Leigh Anne gave the best advice any real leader must learn. “You should get to know your players Bert.”
It’s real simple.
LEADERSHIP IS PERSONAL.