Lead without a title; lead with your heart


It was just another day. Just another afternoon high school Cross Country practice …except this time during my senior year under a new coach. I trotted off to the bathroom after a warm-up jog and was shocked to hear the news upon my return. I was not named one of the team captains.

I asked my teammates what happened. I didn’t know how to react. Was it because I went off to the bathroom? No? What was it? Why were the junior guys named team captains? Not me? After being loyal and running day in, day out for all of my high school days? The one thing I wanted, especially after earning the recognition of most improved runner? Why?

The thing is… no one necessarily felt comfortable with the decision but we all wanted to respect our new coach’s decision-making. That’s what our former coach would have expected of us. We were a team that had grown together and we would respect the new leadership.

What did I think? Well… I knew that with the academic burden through challenging times and not putting in enough miles… I wasn’t cut out for varsity. I knew that the new coach was taking things in a different direction and I was willing to listen because of how much I loved being part of the team. I loved being part of something after growing up… different, which is a pretty big deal as a young boy who never participated in any type of organized sports before. I loved growing up with my teammates since my freshman year and enjoying the journey. Like I mentioned before, I was once the most improved runner and the one thing that I wanted afterwards was to be team captain. Coming from down… I wanted to be a leader but it would have been to cherish the values that held the team together, grew the team together, and push the limits… not my ego.

I had every reason to be angry and yet I chose not to be because I knew that was not a reflection of myself… that was not in my character. That was not what my former coach would have wanted. That was not part of the values instilled in this team.

I remember that night. I remember how I felt so distracted and how I reached out to teammates via Myspace or Facebook. I found comfort in how they believed in me regardless of title. I found comfort in how they reached out to my former coach and how he did not agree with the decision… how he would have named me a captain. He believed in me. My teammates believed in me.

I’ll repeat that last statement. They believed in me. That’s why I found comfort in continuing to serve within my role as a teammate and lead without a title. I could act with dignity, not bitterness, and respect the wishes of the captains because they respected me as a veteran who had been through thick and thin with this team since freshman year. Our parents all knew and heard what happened… and how dismayed I looked, though I mustered up the best that I could to continue to enjoy the sport and the team. It hurt not being able to share that genuine smile I once had.

One thing that surprised me and that I could not express enough gratitude for at the time was how the team pulled through for me during my senior awards night, the last opportunity for any moment of recognition. They (teammates and parents) pulled my former coach out of retirement and from another state to come down specifically for me. Coach Brian was a father figure to me. He instilled the values in me that you see today of doing things with intention and with heart. He was instrumental in challenging me while allowing me to enjoy myself and earn the camaraderie of my teammates. He was influential and played a major role in the happiest times of my life… practices in the Oakland hills, carbo loading team gatherings, Halloween parties, summer running camp.

Coach Brian came down specifically for my time in the spotlight to thank me for everything that I did, share the stories of way back when I would watch my older brother during meets, and award me something… a varsity letter EVEN THOUGH I was only on junior varsity because of what I had symbolized for the team. I was ashamed at the time because I knew I did not deserve this award in the traditional manner. I earned it because it was the last chance for the team to thank me with something I never had. It was the last chance to offer me something when I could not have the title of team captain.

In conclusion, this message is for you. When you have a belief system and values that are stronger than steel, you are capable of anything! You will be recognized and awarded eventually! Believe in yourself, not because of your ego but because of your values! People will notice! People will definitely notice and reward you when you least expect anything! You can bend the rules, defy odds, and shatter expectations! All this while the naysayers who do not know the real you shrug you off as “just a kid” or “just a student” or “just a new grad”.

Others will attempt to advise, “Prove them wrong!”

I am here to remind you of a long-forgotten truth…

You don’t have to prove shit! Be you!


6 thoughts on “Lead without a title; lead with your heart”

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