Champions Don't Play Fair

I like to also call this post Leadership Lessons from the 'Hood (childhood that is).

I know parents shouldn't have favorites but I can't help it. Shep is my favorite child. He is my favorite child because of his happy-go-lucky approach to life. Because of his zany sense of humor. Because he is kind and thoughtful. Because no matter what is going on (even when all hope should be lost), Shep still believes the universe is conspiring to do good things for him.

Warren is also my favorite child. He is my favorite child because he sees the world so differently - more like a 70 year old sage then a 15 year old teenager. Because he loves to sing out loud (anywhere, anytime), even though he has a terrible singing voice. Because he is compassionate and kind, even in the face of ugliness.

Both of my children are my favorites for different reasons. I love them differently, yet the same. I thank both boys for being the crucible for my research on leadership and human potential. I know it can't be easy and it's not like they actually volunteer. It's more of a mandatory draft. Just when I worry I am making no progress with Shep and Warren, one of them surprises me.

There is a neat leadership book by Dr. Henry Cloud entitled 9 Things a Leader Must Do. Dr. Cloud observed that "people who found what they were looking for in life seemed to do a certain set of things in common. [He] began to identify several ways of behaving and responding that successful leaders had in common - ways they handled themselves, their relationships, their work and their lives." He shaped these behaviors into the 9 things a leader must do. Thing 7 is "forget about playing fair." Dr. Cloud notes that "people who succeed in leadership and life do not go around settling scores. They do not even keep the score. They "run up the score" by doing good to others, even when others did not deserve it." In short, leaders give back better than they are given. I have seen my son Warren live this principle so many times, but three instances stand out.

Warren has been playing tennis since he learned to walk. He played inter-club tennis, where local tennis clubs have teams that compete against each other. Warren, year after year, got beat by a young man named Riley (name changed to protect the innocent). And Riley wasn't nice about the butt whippings. In fact, sometimes in doubles, Riley would intentionally try to hit Warren at the net. When Warren became serious about tennis 3 years ago, he started playing in competitive USTA tournaments. And yes, Riley played the same tournaments. And yes, Riley continued to rack up the wins against Warren. Until about a year ago. Then Warren started winning some of the matches. Even though Riley was never nice to Warren, Warren was never ugly to Riley.

In Spring, 2010, Warren played high school tennis. Yet, another forum for tennis playing! One of the biggest high school rivalries in our hometown of Greensboro, N.C. in any sport is Grimsley-Page. While Warren attends high school at the Early College at Guilford, he plays sports for Page High School because the Early College is too small to have athletic teams. Can you guess who played tennis for Grimsley? That's right: Riley. Riley and Warren didn't have to play each other during the regular season but they met in the conference tournament. Warren won the first set. As the second set started, I heard some of Riley's friends saying to Riley, "Your dad says he will give you $20.00 if you beat him!" If Warren heard that, he didn't react. Typical of Warren, letting ugly comments pass by him. Warren moved ahead easily in the second set. As Warren was approaching match point, Riley broke a string on his last racket. Riley was on court, yelling to the Grimsley tennis coach, "Coach, I need a racket. I don't have any more rackets." At that moment, I heard Warren's voice, "Riley! Riley! Just grab one of mine and use it." Riley darted over to Warren's tennis bag and picked up a racket. At that moment, the Page tennis coach looked at me and all I could say was, "And that is why I love that kid!" Even though Riley had never once been nice to Warren, even though Riley had spent years beating Warren, Warren loaned Riley a tennis racket in the heat of battle. Yes, Warren certainly gave better than he got. He didn't care that it "wasn't fair," he was going to run up the score on Riley even though Riley didn't deserve it.

Some nights, right before bedtime, Warren and I sit on my bed. We play cards, talk, laugh, and giggle. Those times are precious moments that I treasure. It means so much to me that Warren and I have a comfortable relationship as parent and child. Recently, Warren was teasing me at the end of one of these evening conversations as he walked toward his bedroom. I took off after him, giving chase for teasing me. Knowing I was in my pajamas, and upstairs for the evening, Warren ran downstairs. I yelled down the stairs after him, "You have to come back up sometime!" As I stood at the top of the steps, I heard Warren go in the downstairs bathroom and shut the door. I then snuck downstairs and hid in a doorway where Warren couldn't see me but I could see him when, and if, he went back upstairs. Within a few minutes, Warren came around the corner with a glass of water and was about to put his foot on the first step. As he did so, I jumped out from the darkness and scared the bejeepers out of him. He threw water everywhere and almost jumped out of his skin. I immediately felt so bad. I ran up to Warren, hugged him and profusely apologized for scaring him like that. I said, "Warren, I am so sorry! You can get me back when you want!" Warren's response? "Mom, don't worry. I am going to be the bigger man here. I am not going to get revenge." I felt so small and so proud in that same moment. I had to briefly turn away so Warren wouldn't see the tears of pride in my eyes. I love that kid! And yes, Warren is going to give me better than I gave him, even if I don't deserve it.

I often feel like my leadership experiments and lectures fall on deaf ears at 901 Dover Road. However, the actions of my children tell me otherwise. I feel great joy knowing that my husband, Jim, and I are raising compassionate and caring human beings who really desire to run up the score on others.

 As I wrote about Warren's commitment to Thing 7, I realized if a 15 year old can do it, then so can we adults! I invite you to run up the score on people at every opportunity. It’s what Champions do.

Busy running up the score,

Dr. Tomi