“Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free
— Max Lucado
If you have “assistant” in your job title, forget it. There’s nothing wrong or inaccurate about the word. It’s just that we’ve been conditioned to believe that assistant means a second-class position.
“A man who wants to lead the orchestra
must turn his back on the crowd.”
— Max Lucado
Let me attempt to restore the reputation of the word “assistant” using the story of John Havlicek, the NBA Hall of Fame basketball player.
Havlicek established himself as a superstar long before he was awarded a spot in the 5-man starting line-up with the Boston Celtics. He was so good at coming off the bench, that he kept that role and proudly wore the title of “Sixth Man” for about seven years, even after he had earned the right to be a starter. Havlicek was the best assistant in professional basketball. He was also a leader.
“Most people think of leadership as a position
and therefore don’t see themselves as leaders.”
— Stephen Covey
Celtics’ Coach Red Auerbach described Havlicek as the “guts of the team.” How could this be? He wasn’t even a starter for 40% of his career. Because great coaches understand the importance and value of a great cast of back-up players. Being the best Sixth Man is like being the number one assistant. Here are some of the characteristics that made Havlicek great and possibly the most important person on the team.
Havlicek, who was a soft-spoken man of integrity, led by example. He was always ready to enter the game. He had a tireless work ethic and tremendous endurance. His passion for the game and the team never wavered. He was versatile and could play more than one position. Because he seemed to be everywhere on the court, some opponents probably thought he played multiple positions at the same time. When the timing was right, Havlicek was ready to move into the starting line-up. He demonstrated his loyalty and commitment by playing his entire pro career with one team. In 1996, John J. Havlicek was named to the top 50 NBA players of all time. Not bad for someone who established his reputation as an “assistant.”
If you are an assistant and see your role as anything less than crucial to the success of your organization, you have a perception problem not a position problem. When your perception devalues the true importance of your role, you have the wrong attitude and are responsible for sabotaging your career.
“It is your attitude, not your aptitude,
that determines your altitude.”
— Zig Ziglar
Ignore what others might think about your title. Instead, focus on the true meaning and significance of the word “assistant.” Find ways to become the best “Sixth Man” you can be by assisting others to be the best they can be. That’s leadership as an assistant!
“Houston, we have a problem.” This misquotation of words broadcast from the Apollo 13 spacecraft could be tweaked to sound an alarm about the state of today’s leadership in every sector of life. “Planet earth, we have a problem.”
The first part of the problem is the common misunderstanding of leadership, which we generally confuse with position, political or otherwise.
“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” — Kenneth Blanchard(1939- ), American author, management expert.
Authority is the result of leadership, never the cause. It’s true that authority sometimes instills confidence. But, unless the foundations of leadership are present, position alone does not translate into leadership. (see: Barney clips #1 & #2)
Leadership is Serving
Leading is not the opposite of following, following is the foundation of leadership. Following a principle, an ideal, and a dream. When we follow one of these, each which is outside of ourselves, we are serving, which is the highest form of leadership.
“The first step to leadership is servanthood.” — John C. Maxwell
Megan McCallister and I crossed paths at the University of Dayton. As part of a co-ed volleyball team playing in a fundraising tournament for Special Olympics, Megan, a former player on the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team, showed up for our first practice and asked, “What would you like me to do?” She had the credentials and experience to tell our team of amateurs what to do. Instead, she asked how she could serve the interests of the team and the event. That’s servant leadership!
Leadership is Timing
“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” — Warren G. Bennis
Days later the same tournament was underway. At a clutch moment during a tight match, team captain and coach Julie Bowling called time-out. In the huddle, without being asked, Megan stepped up, took charge and said, “Okay gang, here’s what we’re going to do.” Real leaders like Megan also have vision and know when to assert themselves. When action is based on vision, good timing AND serving others, true leadership is exhibited.
Leadership is Conviction
Leadership begins with one’s conviction to a purpose, but becomes measurable only through appropriate action. Leaders do not hold a finger to the wind before committing and they don’t shy away from taking action.
“A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” — Max Lucado
Like Success, Leadership is Portable
Leadership can be carried over to other areas of life. That is why superstar athletes run for public office and endorse products. The perception that they have succeeded in one field is accepted as evidence of leadership that is transferrable to other fields. Few would know whether or not golf great Phil Mickelson is an expert in financial services. But, that’s not why he wears the KPMG logo on his golf shirt. His success credentials, like leadership qualities, are portable.
Leadership is Lagging
In government, families, institutions, and businesses we are in the midst of a leadership drought. Misunderstanding leadership, leading to preoccupation with achieving so-called “positions of leadership,” have helped create this drought. The solution begins with clarity of what leadership means.
“The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them.” — John C. Maxwell