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What a 100-year Old Coach Can Teach Us about Leadership

The old coach entered the office of a much younger coach and asked, “Got a minute?” The old man, then 85, showed the coach a medal he had won as a young track star many decades before. Inscribed on the back of the medal were the words, “Friends. Family. Health.” Then the old man said, “When you are done coaching, make sure you’ve got those three things and that you keep them with you.”

The old coach entered the office of a much younger coach and asked, “Got a minute?”

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The old man, then 85, showed the coach a medal he had won as a young track star many decades before. Inscribed on the back of the medal were the words, “Friends. Family. Health.” Then the old man said, “When you are done coaching, make sure you’ve got those three things and that you keep them with you.”

That is a story that Lloyd Carr, now retired after a long and successful career as head football coach at the University of Michigan, told AnnArbor.com about Red Simmons on the occasion of Simmons’ 100th birthday. Simmons is the founding coach of the women’s track program at Michigan and a member of the 1932 U.S. Olympic team. And with traces of red still in his hair, Simmons is still going strong today.

Simmons’ advice is valuable to anyone in a leadership position. The pressures of the moment can and do obfuscate the long view, but it is imperative that leaders do take the time to reflect on what is important to them personally. The words inscribed on the medal are as good as any, and when you think about it, they symbolize how we all should be conducting ourselves.

Friends. Twin concepts underscore friendship: relationship and reciprocity. We want to have relationships who are worthy of giving to and getting from. By that I don’t mean we choose friends because of what they offer in terms of materialism but rather what they bring to the relationship – a story, honest talk, but most of all understanding of us and who we are as people. We reciprocate with our own unique gifts –our stories, our honesty, our understanding.

Family. You can define family as something held together by the twin ideals of love and responsibility. While poets have waxed for millennia about love, for me it comes down to simple respect. Respect for parents may come readily but between husband and wife it is earned. Each must give something to and for the other on a daily basis.  Responsibility for family especially when children are involved means making decisions that will benefit others before yourself. The concept of sacrifice holds families together in tough times as well as good ones.

Health. When we speak of health, it may be wise to consider three aspects: physical, mental, and spiritual. Keep yourself fit through exercise and a sensible diet. Take your medicine when required. Mental fitness is essential for your productivity and for that reason you want to exercise your mind through challenge and experience. Spiritual health is the connection to something greater than yourself, however you define it.

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Not only do these three words – friends, family, health — anchor a leader’s life, they provide him or her with a perspective on how to treat others. Leadership is rooted in self awareness but leadership is an outward focused mindset that emphasizes responsibility for others. The words behind the friends, family, health triptych stand for relationship, commitment and responsibility.

Each of these, and all that they encompass, apply when thinking about leading a team, guiding an organization, and holding yourself and others accountable for results. Taken together these principles form a good foundation for thinking about your leadership.

Friends. Family. Health. It’s a good framework for keeping your leadership and your life in perspective.

 

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2009, Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s top 25 leadership experts. John’s newest book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up (Amacom 2009).

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