Inexperienced leaders often find it challenging to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to be effective. Teaching leadership is difficult, as much of it is an art form developed through application and trial. Still, examples are beneficial.
Heisman Trophy winner and former National Basketball Association star Charlie Ward is such an example. A leader on the gridiron as a quarterback and on the hardcourt as a point guard, he recently took on a new role. To the dismay of some, Ward does not work at the collegiate or professional level. He is the head football coach at Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, Florida, and this is his second high school position since he left professional coaching in 2007.
During a 30 August interview on Prep Football Final, a local high school sports program from WEAR ABC 3, Pensacola, Coach Ward and his players discussed some of the changes that have taken place since he assumed his new position earlier in the year. Ward has undoubtedly taught his team a lot about the game, but much of his attention has been focused on building character, developing players from the inside. All leaders can learn from this approach.
Coach Ward described his philosophy of “teaching our guys about being on time; saying yes sir, no sir; being respectful to young ladies and themselves and to coaches.” These attributes are among the basics of how boys become young men, and his athletes benefit from this approach. The coach’s school serves economically diverse areas of Pensacola, and some parents struggle to keep their kids away from negative influences. Coach Ward and his assistants provide the type of guidance and role modeling all children deserve. He knows that no matter what life and football skills he teaches, “Those little things will not win every game.” But his objectives are much bigger. He’s trying to win the inner person, not the outer player. Coach Ward teaches the “little things” because he understands that “in the end, [his team will] win in the game of life.”
Unlike coaches, military leaders must be concerned with winning every game. The “game” is dangerous and the stakes are high, whether in training, routine operations, or combat. When these teams don’t win, the consequences can be disastrous. Still, Charlie Ward provides a worthwhile and appropriate illustration of great leadership, because this quality springs from a single human feeling: Coach Ward loves his players, and they know it.
His impact is obvious on their faces and in their words. The Prep Football Final special included interviews with the team. Their excitement at having such a special coach extended beyond his celebrity, which Ward has actively downplayed. One of the most telling statements was about how much he truly cares for them: “Coach Ward loved on us.”
No matter where you lead—on the ball field, the battlefield, or the deckplates—truly effective leadership is grounded in love for those in your charge. It may look and feel a lot different in the military, but it remains the basis of why leaders seek leadership. Think for a second about some of our greatest military leaders. Many are known for having sincere love for their sailors or Marines. True love for leading and for subordinates allows us to win their hearts and souls. It makes accomplishing almost anything possible. That is how the greatest military leaders earn the respect of troops who would follow them to the gates of Hell.
In an era when professional athletes often make the news for the wrong reasons, Charlie Ward deserves recognition for the right ones. He and coaches like him—and there are many—should be respected for their devotion to developing youth of character. Through emulating them, young people become role models in their own right.
Truly great leaders know the secret to earning the trust and respect of followers, traits that enable all other objectives that leaders seek to accomplish. As Ward said, “If you win the inside of a person, then the outside will take care of itself.”