«Forget about me!» the leader said

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

I love sport and part of my activity is to coach athletes to overcome their mental roadblocks to perform to their full potential. I recently wrote a post to my “sport mental training” community and I thought I would extend this post to leadership in general.

I came across a video (sorry for a lot of you, it is in French) of the speech former San Antonio Spurs basketball player Toni Parker gave to his teammates during the half-time of the semi-final of the Euro in 2005 when France managed to beat Spain for the 1st time. At half-time, France was down by 14 points. In the locker rooms, Toni Parker, captain and leader of the team, had to find the words to motivate his teammates. “We are playing like if we were afraid, we are not physical enough …I don’t care what happens in the second half and if we lose, but we are going to fight”.

But most importantly, after other words, he eventually said: “Nothing to lose, let’s play. Antoine, if you have a shot, take it, Alexis, if you have a shot, take it”. And you know what?” he ended saying to the playmaker of the team, “announce plays for Nico, for Bobo … just 1 out of 5 for me … forget about me!”.

France made an amazing come back in the second half and managed to beat Spain.

Not only did Toni Parker motivate his teammates, but he also didn’t let his frustration and ego take the wheel and want to save the whole team on his own.

Instead he trusted his teammates and asked them to forget about him, not because he was afraid and wanted to run away from his responsibility, but because he felt everyone needed to step up. So, by stepping down in a way, he created the space for them to step up, for them to take their responsibility. This is great leadership.

This applies to leadership at work. Great leaders create more leaders, not more followers.

Now this requires Vulnerability and Courage, because it is taking the risk to be seen as weak or escaping one’s responsibility, it is facing the fear of losing one’s leadership role.

It requires Trust. Trust that you are doing the right thing, trust your teammates and that they can step up and save the game.

And it requires to let go of the need to control everything, which is very counter intuitive for most leaders.

In his book Leading with Emotional courage, Peter Bregman says something similar and goes even a step further, by inviting leaders to do something most them fight so hard to avoid: being overwhelm, the ingredient to draw out leadership in others. Here is what Peter Bregman says:

Leaders like to be in control. They want things to turn out right and feel, often mistakenly, that if they have control over them, they will…. The more control you have over something, the less room there is for others to step into their own leadership.

Designing chaos into a process is the antithesis of what most leaders do. We try to focus on 1 thing, 1 concept, 1 conversation, 1 task. But in real life, in real organizations, nothing happens one thing at a time. And no one can be on top of it all (Evan speaking here: Yes, I know, that sucks to admit that. It is both very obvious and intellectually understandable, and yet, for people like me, the internal pattern is to act as if we could be on top of it all. Take the time to check in how that lands in you).

 If everyone followed their own impulse, stepped into their own leadership, wouldn’t that lead to anarchy? Maybe. It depends on the strength of their organization’s container. How clear is the big arrow, the vision, the values, the culture? If we know what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, what’s important to us, and how to operate then there will be trust, focused energy, and abundant, unified leadership. If not, there will be anarchy.

 No matter how much leaders would like to, they just can’t control everything. Trying to control the uncontrollable just makes things worse. People check out. They feel no ownership. They work minimum. And things fall through the cracks.

 Here’s the hard part: leading without controlling. Stepping into your own leadership while leaving space for others to step into their own leadership as well.

So, if you are a leader, what would Toni Parker’s request “Forget about me” look like for you? How can you step into your own leadership while leaving space for others to step into their own leadership as well? By doing so you’ll become a greater leader and your whole team will become better.

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