As I go through this journey, Amanda (wife) keeps telling me that I need to remind myself my leadership is not in question. She keeps reminding me I have been and still am a great leader. That I have effected numerous lives, albeit, some probably wish I hadn’t. However, all I can think about is a time that I struggled or failed but still had to lead. Even as I struggle now, I know that I’ll come through this stronger, and that I still need to lead. Just as I did with the chair!
I’m not sure if I buy into the, “you’re a born leader” mentality or philosophy. I think that a leader is made by choices he or she makes at times of conflict, desperation, or any type of obstacle throughout their life. I think there are many times someone can become a leader. I’ve been amongst some of the best leaders this country, and other countries have to offer. In that time, I’ve learned that not everyone is made equal, not all leaders are the same, and some leaders are great, some bad, and some just simply don’t compare to others. The ones who don’t compare to others, who are they? They are the ones who could always bring the calm to the storm. Make sound, decisive, concise decisions and somehow, no mater what, they always seemed to get it right.
I’m not sure where I would fall in the leadership spectrum, I don’t think it is something for me to decide. I leave that up to the men and women that I have led throughout my lifetime. I mentioned, that I think a leader develops, grows, or shows their true-self out of times of hardship or difficult scenarios. Well, I have one of those difficult scenario stories. At a young age (20), I was given an opportunity to learn and grow as a leader, and I didn’t know it until years later.
Sitting in a Fort Benning, GA theater at the Captains Career Course (Army School), listening to the head coach of the Duke Blue Devils, Coach Krzyzewski (Coach K) speak, I was quickly realizing that I was listening to a genius. He traded stories of leadership, failures, successes, the “Dream Team” at the 92′ Olympics. How tenacious Michael Jordan truly was at perfecting his craft. Coach K just kept going and going, story after story of greatness, triumphs, and tribulations. Enlightened from his speech, I went and bought his book Leading with the Heart. The book still sits on my office bookshelf. As I’m reading it, I get to the chapter where he talks about one of his star players. It talked about how he pulled one of his star players into the office and let him know that he was going to give him the ass-chewing of a lifetime, right in front of his peers. He needed to do so, so that his teammates knew that he wasn’t above them and so that the team could get a wake up call.
Now for the chair. My sophomore year in college we had strength and conditioning at 4:30 a.m.. You would think we were getting ready for the Olympics, or so it felt. We were a baseball team, shouldn’t we be just lifting weights and throwing the ball around during fall-ball (off-season). Nope, not us, we were doing speed latter training, 250 yard sprints, suicides, 5-mile runs, weight room stuff. It was a real kick in the nuts so to speak, and we started having problems with people showing up on time. It didn’t matter what the coaches did, we would have at least a few people late every morning.
If you don’t know me personally, I’m one of those you set 15 alarms because you are freaking out that your going to be 10 minutes early and you should be 15 minutes early kind of guy. I am not late! If I am, there was usually a pretty damn good reason for it. On this specific morning, I showed up my usual 15 minutes early to the lifting session, placed my bag by the door and walked around the gym to go to the bathroom. Like any man, or boy, my toilet breaks took almost an hour because I was reading something, playing something, or googling something (probably playing snake, that was the day blackberries were the hottest). Mistake number one! Even though I was on time, my gym bag was clearly inside the weight room, the coaches called me out for being late. Not thinking it was too serious, I argued a bit. I wanted to make sure he knew what he already knew and that I wasn’t late, ever! Mistake number two! He didn’t say much the rest of the time, and then the afternoon practice came. There was a chair sitting down the left field line, just past the infield dirt. A sole chair sat there, waiting, waiting, and waiting. It was lonely, and it was waiting for me!
“Everyone, everyone line up down left field line, we have some running to do since we can’t show up on time”, the coach said. “Everyone except for Jewell”, the next comment came. See I wasn’t too worried about running at that age, I was in good shape. The kind of shape that if we had a 5-mile run in the morning, I’d probably go out for a couple more in the afternoon. That is when my o’shit meter went off. What the hell, why am I sitting in the chair, I wasn’t even late, and what the hell was up with this stupid chair anyways I thought.
The chair was there for me to watch. To watch my teammates run and run, and run some more! To this day it is one of the worst feelings of suffering I have felt. It was one of the worst punishments I have endured. I couldn’t do anything to help them, they were suffering at my failure. This was on me, but at first I only got angrier. Angry at the coaches for being so ridiculous. ‘I wasn’t late’ is all I could keep thinking, and these idiots knew that. ‘Why the hell would they make me sit in this stupid chair, and watch?’
Normally this would be where I would say something like, what seemed like hours was only minutes kind of thing. I would be a liar, and I don’t like to lie. What seemed like hours was hours. The entire practice was dedicated to me sitting in this stupid chair watching my teammates suffer because of me. My anger went from outward to inward. Angry at myself for being in the bathroom so long. Angry that I couldn’t do anything. There they were, my teammates, throwing up, stripping down to sliding shorts, and doing everything they could just to do the next sprint. ‘They’re going to hate me,’ is all I could think. ‘I’m done on this team’, was the next thing. ‘This is the day they, the players, don’t accept me as a teammate anymore.’
Finally over, I still sat there in the chair. The coaches huddled the team around me, as I still sat in this freaking chair. Then the speech was given, “gentlemen, we will not accept being late any longer, be disciplined and show up on time.” Practice was over, and I put my chair up and sat in the dugout. Humiliated at what I just did to the team. No one said a word to me, not a single person. It had been an hour and a half of running. From left field foul line to center field and back. Over and over again. I wasn’t able to run with them, but there wasn’t going to be anyone stopping me from running afterwards.
As players left, I started to run. Since it was fall and it got dark early, I turned on the lights and just started to run. See I liked running, but I didn’t like this. I was running alone, under the lights, with no teammates around me. I truly felt alone. I felt I had just left the team, this was my final goodbye, I would endure what they endured and then I’d be gone.
What I didn’t know at the time, is some of the players had called my now-wife and let her know what happened. “Hey, here’s the deal, and he’s running right now, he’ll be home later and probably will be angry.” They gave her a heads up. About an hour into my self-pity running, some players showed up and sat in the dugout. I didn’t say a word, and they didn’t either. Then after a couple of more sprints they walked out and gave me a hug. Told me it was ok, they know that it wasn’t my fault, that it was everyone’s fault. That it was time to stop running, I had done enough. We turned off the lights and went home. When those lights turned off, I became the leader of that team and for the next three years I led the team. Of course, with other players as well.
I didn’t know it then, and I didn’t know it until many years later, but the coaches knew I wasn’t late. They needed to make a point, and they felt that I was the only one on the team who could have come out of something like that stronger. That’s where I am at right now, running. I’m running to figure out what the hell is going on. Trying to find ways to make my guilt of coming home easier, making the anxiety go away, making these struggles go away. I know now, just as Coack K knew with his player, as my coaches did with me, I will get through this. I will come out stronger, and I will have the ability to come out and help people get through these things, these feelings that we might not understand. I just have to get through them first!
The Chair. The chair taught me a valuable life lesson that day. In times where we might seem lost, in times where we might feel undone, or feel like failures, are the times we come through stronger than ever. I will come out of this stronger!