Leaders and entrepreneurs have the great privilege to serve others by helping them recognize more of their potential. Calling out greatness in others is a sacred task because it means helping others see that which they they could otherwise not see themselves. In my life, other than my mother, grandmother, and a few exceptional teachers, these leaders have most often been coaches.
I joined basketball late in the game. Most of my teammates had already been playing organized ball for four years by the time I joined the team in 8th grade. I wasn’t familiar with the rules, couldn’t dribble between my legs, or use my left arm for much of anything. I was a novice ball player desperately trying to keep up. Every day at practice was a lesson in humility.
I decided early on that not only was I not going to be the best on the team, but I was unlikely to get much playing time as well. So I made a commitment to be the best at one thing, and then everything else would just take care of itself.
I committed myself to being the greatest free-throw shooter my town had ever known. While the rest of the team was taking a water break, I was shooting free throws. Practice ends early – more free throws. I had a basketball goal at my house over my gravel driveway. Couldn’t dribble on the gravel, but I would shoot free throws until it was dark. I got so good that I could make ten in a row with my eyes closed.
One day towards the end of a bench-riding season, my coach approached me after practice. “Brantley,” he said, “I’ve watched you shooting here all season, and do you know what I see?” I hadn’t a clue. “I see a player that could be a champion, but you’re comfortable. You’ve busted your butt all season and you’re the best free throw shooter on the team, but you’re not getting in the game long enough to get to the free throw line. You’ve got passion and you’ve got determination, but you’re only as good as your weakest link. You’ve got talent – I know you do. I’ve seen it. And not just with your free throws. The talent’s there, but you’re afraid to use it and you’re undisciplined. You know better technique than what you are showing, because I’ve seen you use it. Now, DO better, every time you shoot a basketball, whether it’s from the free throw line, the arch, or a layup, and you will become that champion I see!” And with that, he had called out something I didn’t know was in me, something I couldn’t have seen myself, unless someone helped me…and he did.
To call out greatness in others—and have it received– there are three elements that must be in place before this aspect of leading carries its greatest impact.
First is trusting rapport. If there is a shared rapport grounded in emotional safety, relational security, and connectedness in a shared goal, calling out greatness is less likely to be perceived as harsh and critical or judgmental. I understood that my coach wasn’t trying to hurt me or make me look bad. When trust is there, a coach or employer can call their players and employees to something greater than they can achieve themselves.
Second is credibility. Credibility refers to a consistency of character and action in the leader that builds trust and facilitates relational growth with followers. Great leaders are competent in skills and abilities and consistent in the decency of character. My coach was credible with me and the rest of the team because every time he was with us, his coaching character and relational behavior didn’t change. He treated us as people, as individuals…he treated us the way he would like to be treated. When he challenged us to new levels of performance, calling out greatness in what each of us was to become, it was received in the spirit it was sent—which was to affirm and not belittle.
Passion is the great and intangible quality that defies common sense.
Third is passion. No one can call out greatness in others if they don’t “feel the burn” of excellence deep inside themselves. Authentic passion is borne of a deep sense of purpose, a calling in itself to be better and do better, inspiring others as it spills over into their lives via the leader’s example. Passion includes a rich sense of nobility, the nobler purpose of realizing more fully what you were created to be. Passion is the great and intangible quality that defies common sense. Where common sense would say “it’s not practical” or “it can’t be done”, passion transcends common sense and becomes a river of life into others from a source they couldn’t access themselves.
As you think about those who have called out greatness in you, ask yourself: do you possess these three qualities of a leader. Are you developing yourself in all three areas, or are you like me in 8th grade and only attempting to master one.
Being a stellar free throw shooter didn’t make me a great basketball player. In face, it didn’t even get me into the game. In the same way, developing just one of these leadership skills won’t make you an exception leader capable of speaking into the lives of those you lead.
You’ve got a great opportunity. Make the most of it by investing in yourself. It’s worth it.