Every man (or woman) is a master of his own life. Abraham Lincoln said it slightly differently: “Every man owns his own face.” With very few exceptions, we own our own life. And this means that those of us in leadership positions also own the fate of the organizations, groups, or teams that we lead.
Most of us will never have in our personal lives the freedom and the power we enjoy as leaders . . . and we are loath to give up that power. Mother Angelica, the cloistered nun who built EWTN Global Catholic Network, once asked an audience why it is that we suffer aches and pains as we grow older. Her audience gave no response, so she answered her own question. “It’s because we are so powerful, it’s God’s way of keeping us humble.”
We prize humbleness in our leaders, don’t we? Because we intuitively understand that power is corrupting. I mean, seriously, when was the last time you remember a national leader “admitting” they made a mistake in a policy or action that they took? Oh, yes, there has been a steady stream of apologies and admissions of personal failure for sexcapades, especially from those in the highest offices in the land . . . but admissions of failed decisions that affect the lives of hundreds of thousands or millions? Nary a peep.
Humbleness is also when we face something overwhelmingly difficult and see failure beginning to set in … and we seek help.
Our usual reaction is to tough it out, thinking it is temporary and “things will turn around.” But what if they don’t turn around?
Sometimes we are lucky and we get to see this internal drama played out in art. And in seeing it in someone else, it challenges us.
There is that great scene in Remember the Titans
where, in the final game for the state high school football championship, assistant coach Bill Youst (played by Will Patton) is the defensive coordinator and is getting his butt kicked by the opponent’s offense. Coach Youst tries every trick in his book, but nothing is working and the other team keeps scoring. Head coach Herman Boone (played by Denzel Washington) is riding him to get his defense to stop them from scoring.
Coach Youst was supposed to be the head coach of the Titans, but the school board wanted a black coach to lead the first integrated high school football team in Virginia in 1971. Coach Youst stayed on as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator because of his commitment to the players.
As his defense is getting beaten, coach Youst’s first response to coach Boone is, “you just focus on your offense.” But soon coach Youst has to admit to himself that he is out of ideas . . . and with the game on the line, is it going to be about him or the team?
Head coach Boone had been a defensive coordinator in his previous job, but he respected coach Youst enough to let him make the calls … win or lose.
In the end, coach Youst admits he is out of ideas and asks head coach Boone to run the defense. Coach Boone, to his surprise, switches roles and hands the offense to coach Youst. The switch works and they win the game.
I know … I know … Hollywood ending, right? But what is the turning point? When coach Youst admits he is out of ideas or when he humbles himself for the sake of the team?
What has worked in fundraising for decades is shifting under your feet, even as you read this. This is big … very big. And no one person has all the right answers, especially as a 40, 50 or 60-something fundraising immigrant into the brave new digital online world.
But what you do have is the power to shift your future by seeking out help.
Remember the Titans … or, better yet, remember coach Youst!
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