In September, as part of a leadership development experience that I was co-facilitating, our group had the opportunity to learn from the leadership experience of an NFL coach. Dave Canales is the wide receivers coach for the Seattle Seahawks and a genuinely thoughtful and effective leader.
As our conversation with Dave progressed, and he shared thoughts on preparation, process, and the dynamics of working with some very big egos, a question came to mind that I have often mused on but have never had the chance to ask someone who was qualified to respond.
The question on my mind was this: What does the casual sports fan not appreciate about what it takes to excel as a professional athlete?
At the heart of this question is my deep curiosity about what separates those of us on the couch from those who are on the field. I struggle to imagine what it takes to perform at the level of an elite athlete, especially under the scrutiny they face. And so, given an opening in the conversation I asked Dave my question. He did not hesitate to respond.
Both the immediacy and the content of his answer caught my attention. He went on to explain what was maddeningly obvious and so easy to overlook. Professional football players, for all of their skill, and for all of the ways they make it look easy or routine, get beat-up pretty good on a weekly basis. And they are expected to recover and do it again. And, again. Sixteen times over the seventeen weeks of the regular season. Implicit in his response was that the best ones – those who excel week in and week out – do so because of a radical commitment to the disciplines of recovery, restoration and preparation.
Since we were speaking in the context of a leadership program, the question immediately reformed in my mind this way: What does the “average” follower not appreciate about what it takes to excel as a leader?
Before I heard Dave’s response I would have immediately offered “self-awareness,” “care for people,” and “commitment to continuous learning” as my top responses. I would have only glanced at the truth that in order to seek awareness, extend care and continue to learn effective leaders have to be in great shape to do so! The exposure and expectations of leadership are tough. The weight of responsibility, day in and day out, can and will wear you down. If you don’t restore and recover well and if you don’t have a clear commitment to your well-being, you simply can’t excel. Sooner or later the wear and tear will make you susceptible to injury and your contribution will be reduced to that of a bystander.
There’s another game coming up and we need you on that field.
Will you be ready?
DAVID BERRY is the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well. If you enjoyed this post someone else might, too. Please pass it along.