Leadership lessons

Published 4:50 am Saturday, July 23, 2011

As many of you know, my favorite college basketball coach is Virginia Commonwealth University’s Shaka Smart.

He’s young, exciting, full of energy, very bright and a true motivator. He has that je ne sais quoi about him, that certain something you can’t quite define but know-it-when-you-see-it type of ability that allowed him to motivate a group of young men this spring in such a way that they achieved success far greater than what anyone ever expected of them.

He is a leader, in every sense of the word. And what I learned from watching him this spring, what has had an everlasting impact on me long after the excitement of VCU’s Final Four run wore off, has much more to do with leadership than the X’s and O’s of basketball.

Following an unlikely overtime win over Florida State, in which the entire team made important contributions that kept VCU in the NCAA Tournament, Coach Smart started his press conference with these words:

“It’s amazing what a team can accomplish when nobody cares who gets the credit.”

That simple phrase captures the very essence of what it means to lead. Team above self. Group accomplishment versus individual accolade. Successfully completing a mission for the greater good without concern for seeing your name up in lights. Individuals sacrificing personal advancement in order to achieve a team goal. That is what it means to be a leader. It’s true in sports, and it’s true in life.

Putting team ahead of self is what makes for an effective government as well. Effective governance requires consensus building. It requires building alliances among political adversaries. It requires compromise.

It ultimately requires individual leadership and a sincere desire to put the good of the community in front of personal ambitions. But when the desire to make the front page outweighs the desire to get results, the process breaks down and the results are not good.

We certainly have members of city council and our boards of supervisors who are leaders seeking results, who act in a cooperative manner and truly desire to seek positive results for our community. Yet we have a few who appear far more interested in becoming martyrs for their own personal causes than the leaders their constituents elected them to be.

The individual citizens of this community deserve better, and the future of our community as a whole demands better. Potential investors monitor the every move of our elected officials to determine if our community is one that is both business-friendly and capable of making effective strategic decisions.

And we are both of those things. But those that engage in the buffoonery that often takes place during city council and board of supervisors meetings are not only failing as leaders, but they are embarrassing their constituents and doing damage to our opportunity to grow economically. They are not advancing the cause of our community and are not helping us achieve our goals.

If one’s goal is personal notoriety and self-advancement, there are plenty of avenues down that one can explore opportunities for themselves. However, we are living in serious times, and we have serious issues that require solutions and action, not grandstanding and foolishness. We need leaders who want to be team players.

Yes, it is truly amazing what a team can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit. But it’s equally amazing how a talented team can fail when not everyone is working toward the same results. It’s time all of our elected officials got on the same team. If not, then it’s time for some of them to go.