The Mentor LeaderRead An Excerpt
By Tony Dungy, with Nathan Whitaker
Hardcover, 256 pages
Tyndale House Publishers
List price: $24.99
THE MANDATE OF A MENTOR LEADER: FOCUS ON SIGNIFICANCE
You've got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.
Old Irish proverb
On January 24, 2010, as I sat in the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium, watching the Indianapolis Colts celebrate their victory over the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game, I couldn't help but reflect on my relationships with the five men who now stood on the podium at midfield, handing the championship trophy from one man to the next—owner Jim Irsay, general manager Bill Polian, head coach Jim Caldwell, and team captains Peyton Manning and Gary Brackett.
I felt a measure of satisfaction that day, knowing that each of these leaders—along with the rest of the team—had committed to a common vision and a common goal at the beginning of the season. The goal, of course, was to win a championship, but along with that, everyone was concerned with raising the performance of all the others, with helping them become better players, better coaches, and better men. Each man had a different role and responsibility in accomplishing that goal, but they had all been united in purpose and in their pursuit of excellence. And now they were able to celebrate their success together.
Not only were these men leaders in a positional sense within the organization—and thus were enjoying the team's success—but they had also embraced the principles of mentor leadership and were leaders in a relational sense as well. If they hadn't established the types of relationships they had with each other and with the other coaches and team members, but had only counted wins and losses, they would not have had the same level of positive influence on each other, and the season would not have been as successful. But I knew these men were good, grounded people, whose desire in everything they did was to make each other better—which, in my view, is a more accurate measure of success than wins and losses. It is also a defining characteristic of a mentor leader.
Unity of purpose and a desire to make other people better must start at the top if these goals are going to ripple through an entire organization. But, unfortunately, the opposite is equally true. I think we've all seen examples of the head coach who sits down at the table in the media room after the game, still basking in the afterglow of the big win. Behind him is the backdrop with the team logo and the corporate sponsor of the day, and as the coach answers the reporters' questions, he uses words such as we, us, and our, but what he really means is I, me, and my. And everyone on his team knows it—from the assistant coaches, who are often pushed aside or belittled in practice; to the players, who incur the coach's wrath if they do not perform exactly as expected; to the members of the support staff, who are treated as less than human; to the families, who are not allowed anywhere near the workplace for fear they'll cause a loss of focus—or worse, that their presence might reorient the team's priorities away from winning games. After a while, people see through the talk when it doesn't line up with the walk.
When a team wins or a business is successful, the families of the players or the workers may be excited for the moment; but when they count the cost, I wonder how many would say that the temporary accomplishment outweighs all the memories missed or the bonds not formed. Or, worse yet, maybe they have been programmed over time to believe that the all-encompassing sacrifice of family, community, time—or anything other than what it takes to win games, close sales, or build a business—is an accepted part of life, simply what is required to achieve the number one priority: winning.
Sadly, such "accomplishment" without significance will ultimately prove to be meaningless and without lasting value. Mentor leaders insist on more and define success in a much more robust and well-rounded way.
MENTOR LEADERS PUT PEOPLE FIRST
Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Shortsighted leadership focuses primarily on the bottom line. In football, it's wins and losses and playoff berths. In business, it's quarterly profits, shareholder equity, and sales targets. Not that these things aren't important—they are. But when they become the primary focus of a business or a team, they inevitably result in an organization that is out of balance. Leaders whose definition of success depends on such a short-term focus—and by short-term I mean temporal, ¬noneternal—will one day wake up to discover they've missed out on what is truly important in life, namely, meaningful relationships.
When life in the workplace is all about results and outcomes, it's easy to adopt the same mind-set in other venues as well. Thus, we have parents who scream at the umpire at Little League games, or browbeat their kids into getting straight A's, or harp on the players they coach in Pee Wee football about being "mentally tough." At home, in the limited time left for family, they're tempted to criticize if the house isn't just so or to cram in everything they want their spouses or kids to know, instead of taking time to build the kind of family relationships that God intends.
In our society, whether we'll admit it or not, the prevailing atti-tude is that the ends justify the means. We tell ourselves that "quality time" can make up for a lack of quantity time and that as long as we achieve whatever temporary, worldly goal we're pursuing, all is well. Just keep climbing. We think our spouses and kids need us first to be successful, and then we'll have time to be an important part of their lives.
We rationalize this kind of fuzzy thinking until we really begin to believe that our example, our impact, and our value to oth-ers—family, friends, and coworkers—are measured by what we pro-duce and by the worldly things we accumulate. Our society loves and respects awards, degrees, money, status, achievement, and image. Just look at the accolades we heap upon business tycoons, movie stars, professional athletes . . . and football coaches.
But without meaningful relationships, relationships we invest ourselves in, what does it all amount to?
That's an easy one to answer: dust.
If you take only one thing from this book, let it be this: Relationships are ultimately what matter—our relationships with God and with other people. The key to becoming a mentor leader is learning how to put other people first. You see, the question that burns in the heart of the mentor leader is simply this: What can I do to make other people better, to make them all that God created them to be?
A life spent focused on things of the world will not add value to the lives of others.
Instead of asking, how can I lead my company, my team, or my family to a higher level of success? we should be asking ourselves, how do others around me flourish as a result of my leadership? Do they flourish at all? How does my leadership, my involvement in their lives—in whatever setting we're in—have a positive and lasting influence and impact on them?
If influence, involvement, improvement, and impact are core principles of mentor leadership, how can we make them central to everything we do? That's the question I intend to answer in the pages to follow.
Simply stated, leadership is influence. By influencing another person, we lead that person. Leadership is not dependent on a formal position or role. We can find opportunities for leadership wherever we go. Likewise, leader¬ship is not based on manipulation or prescription, though sometimes it may appear that way to an outside observer. By keeping our motives aligned with doing the best for those around us, we will keep ourselves focused on being a positive influence.
I recognize that the world is not necessarily lacking in leadership books. There is certainly no shortage in the bookstores—and eve-ryone from professors with PhDs to "successful" business executives to politicians and entrepreneurs have gotten in on the act. Even football coaches have joined the crowd of voices espousing leader-ship principles—or at least ideas for winning football games. Many of these authors have good things to share, but most are not oth-er-oriented enough for me. Maybe I've missed something, but most leadership books I've seen are too much about the leader, too much about the "me." Too much about improving the bottom line or upgrading the readers' status as leaders instead of having a positive impact on those they are called to lead. I once heard an executive say in an interview, "Of course I know how to lead. I've been in charge of one thing or another for the last thirty years." It may well be that this person knows how to lead, but simply "being in charge" is not evidence of leadership or leadership ability.
So much of what has been written about leadership focuses on positional leadership, that is, that one's status, or being in charge, determines whether one is a leader. But you don't have to look very far to see examples of people at the top of organizational charts who have very few leadership skills. Think about it: It's much easier to look like a leader when your followers know they can be fired for noncompliance or disobedience. But that type of oversight, gover-nance, direction, and supervision is not what I mean when I talk about leadership—and, in particular, mentor leadership. Mentor leaders understand that if we lose sight of people, we lose sight of the very purpose of leadership.
One's position, or status, can supply part of the equation, but that is only a piece. In fact, many of the most effective leaders I've seen do not have positional authority over the people they lead. In my experience, some of the best examples of mentor leadership come from men and women whose influence extends to people who are not their subordinates.
Mentor leadership focuses on relationships and positive influence because success in temporal things can be so fleeting. At the end of it all, sometimes you reach the organizational goals you've set, and sometimes you don't. But either way, if you're a leader, people's lives should be better because of the influence you've had along the way.
MENTOR LEADERS STRIVE FOR SIGNIFICANCE IN LIFE
Young kids with positive male role models have something to live for, somebody who is proud of them, somebody who cares about their well-being.
If you follow professional football, or just read the news, you're probably familiar with the story of Michael Vick. A star quarterback with elusive speed and remarkable athleticism, Michael was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001 and quickly built a reputation as a game-breaker in the NFL. Then, in April 2007, word surfaced that a dogfighting operation had been uncovered at a house Michael owned in his home state of Virginia. Though Michael initially denied any involvement with the dogfighting enterprise, he later pleaded guilty to federal charges and served twenty-one months in prison. After his release, I had an opportunity to meet with Michael and mentor him, and we established a relationship that continues to this day.
Because of the controversial nature of Michael's crime and his later reinstatement to the National Football League, I have been asked more times than I can remember why I got involved with him. I have answered those questions as candidly as I could, time and again, but I want to expand on my answer here because it is so critical to my approach to this discussion of mentor leadership.
To all appearances, Michael Vick was wildly successful—wealthy, at the top of his profession, and in the public eye. But as we all learned, there was more to the story. For all his worldly success, was he building a life of significance?
Leadership, as I believe it should be understood and displayed, must first and foremost recognize that it is not enough to be successful in the world's eyes. I've heard sociologist Tony Campolo say that the world has "switched the price tags," giving value to the valueless while undervaluing the truly important. Accumulating things is highly prized in our society, as are status and fame. On the other hand, the truly important things of life often happen in quiet, private moments—moments of faith, family, and building relationships.
Before his time in prison, I'm sure there were times when Michael thought about what a great opportunity God had given him. I know he thought about his family, his teammates, and the fans all over the country who looked up to him. But I don't think he ever contemplated the responsibility that goes along with a leadership position, whether in leading his family or his team, or in being a role model for so many other young men.
When Michael's successful career was brought to a halt and he had time to think about it, he came to the conclusion that he hadn't done his part as a leader. God had blessed him with uncommon talent, and Michael had used it to rise to the top of his profession. Unfortunately, he realized he hadn't helped the people around him as much as he could have. And he wanted to do that—starting with his family, and then, he hoped, with another football team, if he were given the opportunity. But he also wanted to reach out to all the young boys who looked up to him, who wore his jersey, and who wrote him letters while he was in prison asking why he wasn't playing anymore. Could he still do those things? Could he still have that impact for good?
That's why I chose to work with Michael Vick. That's why I got involved in his life. I saw a young man in need, and I had an oppor-tunity to do something. But more than that, I accepted the responsibility to perhaps provide a moment of significance in his life—a moment that would help him get his life back on track. I did what so many others had done for me—the things that have helped me become more the person I am and the person I want to be than I ever could have done on my own. You never know how these things will turn out, but you've got to be willing to try. My goal was to build into Michael Vick's life what I believe is important, things that Michael himself says he wants in his life—being close to his family, modeling good values for kids, and even speaking out against the animal cruelty that he now knows is wrong. Whether Michael ever regains the status and standing he once had in the NFL is not as important as what kind of man he becomes. Mentor leadership focuses on building people up, building significance into their lives, and building leaders for the next generation.
As you build your leadership skills, it's important to remember that why you lead is as important as whom you lead. Leading for the benefit of others is a much more compelling and powerful motivation than leading merely to get ahead or to hit an arbitrary target. Leadership based on building significance into the lives of others is much more energizing in the long term than other types of leadership. The very nature of mentor leadership is that it endures and can be replicated. As we build into the lives of the people around us, one at a time, one-on-one, we have the potential to extend our positive influence through them into countless other people as well.
Mentor leadership isn't focused on self or solely on short-term goals like wins, championships, stock prices, or possessions; it is focused instead on the longer-term goal of bettering people's lives. And that includes people who have made mistakes, who have made a mess of their lives. Mentor leaders see potential and strive to develop it in the people they lead.
Michael Vick and I have pressed on with the goal of putting his life on a different and more significant trajectory. My primary goal is to build into his life so that he, in turn, can have a positive impact on other young men. Nothing would please me more than to see him become a mentor to other people in his own sphere of influence.
Because of my experience in the NFL and the fact that Michael Vick and I knew many people in common, I had the opportunity to work with him. But most mentoring relationships will not take place in the public spotlight. In fact, in order for mentoring to be genuine and effective, it should be a part of your everyday leadership style. In whatever setting you find yourself, you should strive to build into the lives of the people around you. The goal is to begin building leaders to take your place someday—to build leaders who will be equipped not only to lead your organization or some aspect of it, but also, when they leave your organization one day, to stand on their own and lead and build other people and organizations.
The personal, one-on-one aspect of mentoring is something our society desperately needs. I'm heavily involved in prison ministry, and far too often I see the results of a lack of mentoring. It is clearly a pattern in the early lives of the men and women who end up incarcerated. As I listen to their stories, it becomes clear that a mentor could have made a difference—just someone who cared enough to guide them, to be a positive influence, at their most vulnerable time. Instead, they sit day after day in a jail cell, hoping to someday get a second chance. Seeing lives and potential wasted is what makes me so passionate about developing mentor leaders.
There are those who don't want to admit it, but one of the most undervalued areas in our society today is the family unit. A number of studies have underscored the importance of a stable family in producing stable adults and a stable society. Statistics show that many of those incarcerated in our nation's jails and prisons grew up without fathers. Abe Brown, who founded the prison ministry in Florida that I've had the privilege to assist with, estimates that 70 percent of the men in prison today grew up without a father figure in their lives.
Judges who review presentencing investigative reports will tell you that the absence of a father or a positive male figure is a key indicator in the lives of the people they sentence to time in prison. We need strong men to build into the lives of our younger men and boys. Not extraordinary people; just ordinary, everyday men who care enough to invest themselves—their time, attention, and wisdom—in the lives of others, whether as a part of their natural leadership environment or as an additional relationship they purposefully undertake. We need people like that—men and women—to stem the tide of wasted lives and wasted potential that is increasing at an alarming rate across our nation.
Author Donald Miller founded a group he calls The Mentoring Project, with the not-so-modest goal to close 15 percent of U.S. prisons within a generation through an intentional development of mentoring relationships. Miller, who also serves on the presidential task force on promoting responsible fatherhood, agrees with me that fatherless young men, especially inner-city African Americans, are in ¬desperate need of positive, involved role models. Government statistics show that one in three boys grows up without a father in the home—a statistic that rises to two out of three for African Americans.
Boys and girls without a father at home are five times more likely to end up in poverty and much more likely to make decisions that will negatively affect their lives far into the future, including criminal behavior, drug use, and teen pregnancy.
The need is clear and urgent for men who care about fatherless boys—who simply care whether they live or die and who care enough to pass along what it means to truly be a man.
The same is true for young girls in our society. We need more women as well to step up as role models for young girls, women who will spend time with girls, affirming them and building into their lives what it means to be a woman of value, significance, and values. In developing relationships with young girls, these women will make an immediate and long-term difference in the girls' lives, helping them to become all that God created them to be.
The Mentoring Project's method has been to bring two existing entities together: the church and Big Brothers Big Sisters programs around the country. In most cities, Big Brothers Big Sisters has an extensive waiting list of kids in need of a "big brother" or "big sister." Most churches, meanwhile, have a willing population of people seeking a program to integrate into or a ministry opportunity where they can make a difference. The goal of The Mentoring Project is to quickly expand beyond its beginnings in Portland, Oregon (where Don Miller lives), and spread across the country through the existing network of Big Brothers Big Sisters, as churches awaken to the opportunity to serve.
Making a difference, through one-on-one mentoring relationships that truly embrace and demonstrate the value of a single life— that's what mentor leadership is all about.
Part of our purpose in life is to build a legacy—a consistent pat-tern of building into the lives of others with wisdom, experience, and loyalty that can then be passed on to succeeding generations. Think of the people in your own life whose legacy has touched you. Maybe it was a coach, a parent, a grandparent, or a teacher. It's a fact of our human existence that we need other people to live life with us—to walk alongside us and help us on the journey. That's one of the reasons why Derrick Brooks, a great linebacker who had a long career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is so beloved in that city. He figured out that it wasn't enough to lend his name to programs for kids. He needed to get involved in the programs himself. He needed to go beyond providing tickets to football games; he needed to directly touch the lives of the kids who needed his help. Because Derrick Brooks is willing to "get his hands dirty" by going through life alongside a group of kids, the legacy he is building is tremendous—and inspiring.
Building a life of significance, and creating a legacy of real value, means being willing to get your hands dirty. It means being willing to step out in your life and onto the platforms of influence you've been given and touch the lives of people in need. Whether it's in your business, your school, your community, or your family, if you want to make a difference in the lives of the people you lead, you must be willing to walk alongside them, to lift and encourage them, to share moments of understanding with them, and to spend time with them, not just shout down at them from on high.
Mentors build mentors.
Leaders build leaders.
When you look at it closely, it's really one and the same thing.
MENTOR LEADERS KEEP AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
Joshua 1:8, ESV
The mentor leader sees time differently than other leaders. Though short-term results are important—there are upcoming games to prepare for or quarterly reports to complete or some other expectation placed on us—a leader must look into the distance, beyond the immediate return, where the rewards are more permanent, and where some rewards are eternal.
There is always a tension between demanding results now and implementing a longer-term perspective. In the National Football League, there are coaches and general managers who want to build a team that can win now, and others who gradually build a successful team. More often than not, coaches who try to build an immediate championship team end up mortgaging their future success at a great cost with free-agent acquisitions. Coaches who desire more sustainable, longer-term success will typically try to build their team through the draft. There's no guarantee that either way will work. Those competing tensions have blown up some good teams and good people when a middle ground could not be found.
Mentor leaders tend to lean toward longer-term results. They are involved in the present, but are willing to defer immediate gratifica-tion in order to build value and structure into people's lives, creating a culture based on something more than wins and losses. It takes time to build mentoring relationships. It takes time to add value to other people's lives and to achieve what the book of Joshua refers to as "good success." Here's how my good friend James Brown describes "good success" in his book Role of a Lifetime: Reflections on Faith, Family, and Significant Living:
God's success is "good success." It's significance. It's making a difference in the lives of others. It's Joshua standing on the banks of the Jordan River, feeling anxious and inadequate, and realizing that he is being called to do something that will make a difference in the lives of the people he is being called to lead. And in that moment, it's Joshua also realizing that he can only do it with the leadership and in the strength of God.*
Building an organization for "good success" means creating a culture that will live on through succeeding generations. It means building with a long-term perspective—a perspective that says when God is involved in the process, life takes on eternal significance.
The difficulty for most people is that maintaining a long-term perspective requires faith. For me, my faith in God directs, sustains, and strengthens my perspective on life and other people because I know that my true reward is eternal. By faith, I'm able to approach the events and circumstances of my life with an eternal perspective. Even though I may not see the results of my efforts today or even in my lifetime, I'm confident that doing the right thing—the significant thing—will yield rewards for the organization and for others far beyond what I might otherwise achieve.
Every leader speaks of his or her own vision, but mentor leaders keep their eyes focused well downfield, understanding that many of the most significant moments and effects of their lives will happen outside of the public eye—possibly even outside of their own field of vision. In other words, they may never know the full impact of their leadership.
Mike Tomlin, the current head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, worked for me as a defensive backs coach with the Buccaneers. During his final season in Tampa, Mike coached a backup safety named Scott Frost. Scott never became a major NFL star, but he went on to a successful coaching career when his playing days were over. Whether Mike knew it or not, he had a significant impact on that young defensive back. Several years later, when Scott came to our house to recruit our son Eric for his college program, I could almost hear Mike speaking through Scott's words.
Mike Tomlin probably knows that he helped Scott Frost become a better player. What he might not know is how profoundly he affected the way Scott would coach hundreds of players during his coaching career. But I know that Eric Dungy will definitely be affected—in a very positive way—by the way Mike Tomlin coached Scott Frost.
During my coaching career, I always talked to my players about doing the right thing the right way. As I shared in Quiet Strength, I wasn't always certain I was getting through to some of the guys, including defensive end Regan Upshaw, who was known for his colorful personality. Years later, my family and I ran into Regan and his family when we all happened to be vacationing in Rome. After we had spoken for a few minutes, Regan told me that all the things I had tried to teach him about life were finally making sense.
It may take time before the results of our leadership are fully known. Our talents and our treasures may pay dividends so far down the road we may never see the outcome. But with the faith that comes from doing the right thing at the right time in the right way, the mentor leader knows that the payoff will be great—and possibly eternal.
1. Evaluate your integrity: Are your actions consistent with your words?
2. Evaluate your impact: Are you making lives better?
3. Evaluate your perspective: Do you see people as central to the mission of your organization? Or do you see them simply as the means—the fuel—to get your organization from here to there?
4. Evaluate your goals: Are you building relationships, or are you building a tower to climb to the top?
5. Mentor leaders see the opportunity to interact with people—and to build into their lives along the way—as part of the journey itself. How are you looking for ways to directly engage with and influence other people?
6. How does your leadership style need to change so that people will flourish and grow around you?
7. You can lead from a position of authority, but the most effective leaders lead as they build relationships of influence. What can you do to move from an authority-based model to an influence-based model?
8. Identify one person whom you can begin to mentor. Don't look too far or too hard. The opportunity is right in front of you—at work, in your family, or with a friend. Granted, it could be a special situation, outside of your everyday circles of influence, like my relationship with Michael Vick. But more than likely, the person is someone with whom you already have a relationship.
9. Visit The Mentoring Project's Web site and consider how you can get involved.
10. From your perspective, what is the difference between "success" and "good success"?