I’ve never played ice hockey, but I know enough to heed Wayne Gretzky’s advice and “skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been.” On the flip side, I did play soccer for many years and learned early on that the best passes were the ones that led my teammates to the spot where I wanted them to go, and not necessarily where they were heading on their own. One situation has us skating to a place where we are positioned to receive the puck, the other has us passing a ball in a way that inspires another to adjust course. One has us ready to seize opportunity, the other has us leading our teammate toward opportunity.

Let’s get off the analogical sports field. Plain and simple, leadership is about inspiring others to become more than they are. Leaders see in others what others don’t necessarily see in themselves. Leaders shape the future. Over the last few months, I have been spending a good portion of my time observing others – more so than most days, as observation has long been one of my favorite pastimes. Rather than focusing on those who are already exhibiting the leadership skills I value most, I have been doing my part to identify and partner with those who seem to be standing on the puck in need of a pass that might lead them toward opportunity, toward their potential.

These ‘receivers’ fall into two camps. First are those who may not even see themselves as leaders, but are influential, well-liked, and respected; they could be really great with the right inspiration. I call them Coincidental Leaders. The others have a somewhat flawed approach, but are extremely talented, influential, and could be really good with proper direction. I call them Destructive Directors. Helping the Coincidental Leaders reach toward their potential is easy – merely magnify the attributes they already exhibit, give them additional tools to help them hone their skills, and celebrate them for not only the outcomes they deliver but HOW they go about generating those outcomes. Soon they drop the coincidental and exhibit deliberate leadership. Helping the Destructive Directors is a different ballgame…

It is said that when it comes to changing leadership, you have two options: Give the leader reason to change or change the leader. In one instance, we are changing the behavior of the leader; in the other, we are getting rid of him altogether. Personally, I prefer to give a teammate reason to change before I consider asking him to leave the team. In essence, I choose to lead the receiver. I do so with the intent of giving him reason to run to a part of the field he never would have on his own. Sometimes he’ll receive the pass, other times he’ll miss the ball. Over time, he’ll be prepared, positioned, and calling for the ball. The more he is conditioned to this new part of the field, the more likely he is to exhibit true leadership behavior, leaving potentially toxic tendencies behind.

As I spend more time coaching leaders and attempting to convert directors, I am having varied results. The good news is I have had members from both camps send me notes thanking me for “being a leader who sees them as [I] do” – as a fellow leader. These individuals did not necessarily see themselves as leaders, and I am willing to bet the Destructive Directors didn’t know the negative impact they were having on valued teammates. Or, if they did, they certainly did not care. Our work is far from done, but I see a future with more changed leaders than I do leadership changes. And that remains the call of leadership, our calling.

  • Are you skating to where the puck will be?
  • Are you passing in a way that leads the receiver to where he should be?
  • Are you inspiring Coincidental Leaders and Destructive Directors to become deliberately constructive leaders?