That’s the question I kept asking last night as I was watching my favorite college basketball team struggle to win a game. A game that they were leading by twenty points at halftime. A game where they did not score a point for the first six minutes of the second half, until their opponent was within three points. A game they eventually did win, but not until after they had been down by seven and had every one of their fans asking this same question.
This is a team that is full of top national recruits, All American high school players. A group of individuals who, each in their own right, should be a star. But as a team, fifteen games into the season, they are not gelling. I’m no basketball analyst, but it seems pretty plain to me: There is no leader.
What I do not see in any of these players is the fire and passion for the game, the unending desire to make something special of this team, to energize them, support them and carry them to victory.
Unfortunately, what this team is suffering from is no different than many organizations – sports teams, armies or businesses. One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies is the coming-out of a leader:
In “Braveheart,” it’s the scene on the battlefield when William Wallace is trying to rally his ragtag troops to engage in battle with the enemy’s well-trained army:
William Wallace: I am William Wallace! And I see a whole army of my countrymen, here in defiance of tyranny. You’ve come to fight as free men… and free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?
Veteran: Fight? Against that? No! We will run. And we will live.
William Wallace: Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!
[Scottish army cheers]
And what about business leaders? How about another of my favorite movies?
Look at NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz, as portrayed in the movie “Apollo 13”: The mission is seriously in danger of ending badly, with the three men in space not making it back to earth alive. Kranz has his mission control team in the briefing room to find a solution to the problem on the spacecraft. After lots of wishy-washy indecision amongst the team on how to solve the problem, Kranz slams his fist on the table and says, “Gentlemen, failure is not an option!”
The team immediately coalesces and finds a solution.
Don’t get me wrong, not all leaders are as dramatic as William Wallace and Gene Kranz. But ALL true leaders have a fire and a passion for what they are doing, and have the desire to carry their teams to victory.
Carry their teams.
Notice I did not say ‘push their teams’ or ‘drag their teams’ or ‘beat their teams into submission’. Leaders are as much servants as they are guides. ‘Carry’ suggests that the leader is part of the team, not above them. The leader is with them, guiding, serving, empowering, energizing.
The Apollo 13 astronauts would not have survived the return to earth without a strong leader instilling in the team the energy to find a solution. The Scottish army would not have challenged the British without the passionate fire of their leader William Wallace. My favorite basketball team is not going to advance too far in the NCAA Tournament unless they can find a leader. And no organization will last without a strong leader. Who will be the leader?
See you on the show floor.
Jim Obermeyer has been in the trade show industry over 30 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house executive. He is a partner in a new company: Reveal: Exhibiting a World of Difference. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.