Let’s say you are the coach. You’ve just selected a potential superstar with the first pick of the draft. He could become the greatest power forward of all time in the NBA. What do you do now? That was the situation Gregg Popovich found himself in back in the summer of 1997.

The Spurs had just selected Tim Duncan with the first overall pick in the 1997 draft. Everyone knew Duncan would go first. Nobody else in the draft compared to him. He was a coach’s dream. But now that Coach Pop had him, what should he do? He did exactly what any great leader would have done.

They Didn’t Talk Basketball

He flew down to Tim Duncan’s home town and spent three days with him. They went to the beach. They went out to eat. They just spent three days getting to know each other. As Coach Popovich recalls, they didn’t talk basketball at all in those three days. It was a time for getting to know each other as people rather than as coach/player.

That’s what great leaders do. They get to know the people they are leading. They don’t ride in on their horse and start shouting orders. Every person is different. Every group is different. Until you understand the character, dreams, aspirations, fears, and personalities of the people you are leading, you aren’t ready to lead.

Coach Popovich knew who Tim Duncan the basketball player was. He was one of the most dominating big men to ever play college basketball. Everyone knew that. What Coach Pop didn’t know was who Tim Duncan really was inside. Without knowing that, he wasn’t ready to coach him.

The Law of Connection

One of John Maxwell’s basic laws of leadership is the Law of Connection. It states that you must touch a heart before you ask for a hand. He explains how he did that when he first became the pastor of the largest church in his denomination.

Before he even arrived on the scene, he knew some significant changes were needed. However, he wasn’t ready to make them until he had been there for almost three years. He had some things he had to do first.

He had to hold their babies. He had to cry with them through their painful life moments. He had to laugh with them. He had to celebrate their babies being born and pray for them when they were sick. He had to get to know them as people first. They had to get to know him not just as their leader but as a real live human being who cares.

Once he realized that he had connected with his congregation, then he knew he was ready to make changes. Because they bought off on him, they accepted his vision and they got behind him.

People Aren’t Waiting to Be Fixed

I am sure we have seen leaders take the opposite approach. The University where I teach has had two fairly recent disasters when hiring Presidents. They came down here to straighten us out. They came down here to fix us. What they didn’t realize is that we weren’t sitting around Valdosta waiting to be fixed.

There were a lot of things we were doing right. We understood our students, alumni, community, and the deep southern culture in which we reside. There were reasons why we did things the way we did them. There were people within our midst that everyone listened to and there were others that had no credibility at all. There were some battle lines drawn and some land-mines that you didn’t want to step on.

Now don’t get me wrong here. There were also some serious things that needed to change. The whole world of higher education is changing and we needed to get on board or we would be left behind. Some of us needed a serious reality check. In essence, we needed a strong leader who wouldn’t leave us where we were. We needed someone who would take us to where we needed to be.

The problem was that we had recently had a couple of leaders who wanted to look right past the people and our history/culture and get right to work changing us. It didn’t work. Both leaders lasted about two disastrous years. They both left the university in a much bigger mess than it was in when they arrived.

I Am Optimistic

Ten days ago, Dr. Richard Carvajal started his job as the new President of Valdosta State. I am very optimistic that this President may be different than some in our recent past. He didn’t come in and immediately start hiring, firing, and reorganizing. He didn’t start off telling us how the university was going to change and that we had better get on board.

What I have seen him do in the last ten days is simply reach out to our community, not to talk but to listen. It is such a breath of fresh air to see a president who apparently knows the first thing about leadership. The first thing about leadership is the people. He is getting to know the people.

He has some big challenges in front of him. He must make some significant changes. Over time, he will make some people upset. He will need to make some unpopular decisions. Sooner or later, the honeymoon will end and the realities of life will set in. Some people will think he is moving too fast. Some will think he is moving too slow. And some will think he is moving in the wrong direction. That goes with being a leader.

The Leader’s Job Is the People

But fortunately what Dr. Carvajal appears to know is what great leaders such as Gregg Popovich and John Maxwell understand. As a leader, your job is the people. Until you know and connect with the people, you cannot do your job. Leaders see and connect with the people first. Then they are ready to lead.

So what is the first thing great leaders do. They connect. They listen. They try to understand. That isn’t all they do. It is just the first thing they do. That’s where good leadership starts.

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Category: Tuesday, January 10, 2017

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