Calling Up: Discovering Your Journey to Transformational Leadership

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The Version of Yourself They Need

In the summer of 2018, I got to meet Jerry Lynch, who arguably is the most successful sports psychologist ever. Lynch has worked with Phil Jackson, Steve Kerr, Anson Dorrance, and other top sports coaches in the world. He shared something that really challenged me. He said anytime he worked with athletes or coaches, he would spend five minutes mentally preparing himself to be the person they needed him to be.

I struggled with this idea, as Brad Stevens once shared that the number-one piece of advice he offered coaches was to “be yourself”. So, I asked Jerry, “What about authenticity? What about being yourself?”

Jerry’s response was simple: “We are multifaceted human beings. We are not always one way or another. We need to be the part of ourselves they need us to be in that moment.”

What Jerry was suggesting is that we need to tap into our various qualities. For instance, you may be a very passionate, outgoing, and loud person in life, like I am. However, depending on the circumstances, I know you have moments when you can be quiet, introverted, and thoughtful. Nobody is one way or the other all the time!

This is not something natural; it is something we have to be intentional about.

Responding to the Needs of Others

In the 2013 NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs had a 3-2 series lead over the Miami Heat. The game was in Miami, and to prepare for their potential celebration, Head Coach Greg Popovich set up dinner reservations at a very high-end local restaurant for the players and their families.

But even though the Spurs were about to the clinch the series, they would blow the late-game lead in the last 30 seconds. After the loss, everyone expected to jump back on the plane and head back to San Antonio, but “Pop” had other plans. He unexpectedly ordered everyone to meet him at the restaurant. “Pop” arrived early, ensuring the proper layout and ordering appetizers, wine, and entrees for the players before everyone arrived. In his book, The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle recounts how one assistant described this special moment before everyone arrived:

“He looked as sad as I’ve ever seen a person look,” Marks recalls. “He’s sitting in his chair, not saying a word, still devastated. Then—I know this sounds weird—but you can just see him make the shift and get past it. He takes a sip of wine and a deep breath. You can see him get over his emotions and start focusing on what the team needs. Right then, the bus pulls up.”

Popovich is a competitor, and without a doubt, he can take a loss hard. He often tells his players to “get over themselves”, and it seems like he is able to do just that. “Pop” has an incredibly high IQ. He’s not just socially aware; he is a wizard at managing social situations. Not only can he bring out the best version of himself, but he can bring out the best version of the people around him, too.

Coyle goes on to share the events that took place at the restaurant that evening:

People later said he behaved like the father of a bride at a wedding, taking time with everyone, thanking them, appreciating them. There were no speeches, just a series of intimate conversations. In a moment that could have been filled with frustration, recrimination, and anger, he filled their cups. They talked about the game. Some of them cried. They began to come out of their private silences, to get past the loss, and to connect. They even laughed.”

In this story, we can sense Popovich did exactly as Jerry Lynch has advised; he mentally prepared himself and was intentional about being the version of himself they needed him to be at that moment.

Changing Who We Are versus Changing How We Operate

Jack Easterby, the Character Coach of the New England Patriots, studies every player on his team and how they respond to certain situations. Jack is a master at building relationships. He doesn’t accept that he just doesn’t get along with a particular player; instead, he intentionally shapes his response and how he inserts himself into the relationship, so as to help build the connection and serve the player.

While on the outside, it can seem like he is studying people as if they were an equation, it is quite the opposite. Instead, he sees everyone as a unique individual, so he can better respond to their needs.

This may feel like we need to change who we are, to be someone different. But, it’s not. We just need to change how we operate. How do we respond to our feelings of disappointment, frustration, and insecurity? Popovich could have been authentic in that moment by admitting his disappointment and choosing to just head home, so everyone could have some “space”. However, he knew they needed to be reminded they weren’t just a team, but a family. So instead, he chose to tap into the version of himself his team needed right at that moment.

-J.P. Nerbun

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