Several things make a strong field general. Notre Dame’s Kizer exhibits some of these skills on two plays during a second-half rally against Michigan State.
I’d like to tell you that I’m a laid-back dude. Sometimes I am.
A former boss—a far more extroverted, charismatic charmer on the surface—said my team operated like it was a peaceful snowy day at a lake house. He told me it drove him crazy at first.
And I understood why. I was running a team of 200 employees in a fast-paced, high-stress, high-turnover, competitive environment.Quiet, orderly, and peaceful didn’t match his experience and skill as a leader in this role.
Even so, our team was out-producing the competition at the fraction of the initial training costs and the revenue generated was covering a significant percentage of costs for a separate facility that was struggling. A member of the executive team later told me what she shared with the C-Suite: The quality of service on my team was the best she had observed during her 30 years in the business.
I’d like you to know that if I had my way, my introductory story for this Boiler Room on DeShone Kizer would involve a police officer setting the tone for his beat. But it’s not my story to tell.
You’ll have to settle for the perception that I was crazy and mean.
Before my team earned its results, I had to get my team to buy into my leadership. It meant showing them I was deeply committed to what I asked of them.
This goes beyond making teammates feel valued and enforcing rules. In my case, I had to show them that I could do what I was asking them to do and if they did what I did, they’d have the same results.
When you walk the talk, you earn a measure of respect because any perception that you didn’t earn your job is squashed fast. But you also have to show grit—physical or emotional toughness that you can’t fake to those watching you far more often than it appears.
It doesn’t have to be an extreme display, either. You only need to do what’s necessary. Sometimes necessary is risky to others, even if it’s not life-threatening or heroic in any real way.
The same former boss who shared this snowy day at the lake imagery with me about my team did so during an impromptu meeting. That’s a sanitized phrase for, “I walked into his office and ripped him a new one.”
He was interfering with my process in an inappropriate way during a rare day off. My staff told me about it, I got visibly angry, and walked downstairs to let him have it.
He didn’t pull anything of the sort after our conversation. My supervisory staff knew that if I was going toe-to-toe with my boss to fight for what I believed in then what we were doing was also worth their full commitment.
It wasn’t something I planned to do and the way I did it wasn’t optimal leadership form, but when a situation calls for you to show some backbone, you either show it or you start looking for a new role.
An odd fringe benefit of this event was the lasting first impression that I gave the two other divisions in other parts of this large center. I didn’t find this out until two years later when one of those supervisors was transferred to my team.
At the end of her first week with our group, I had a follow-up meeting with her—something that was customary for me to do with new staff in her role. She was notably more relaxed in this meeting than the one we had at the beginning of the week on her first day.
When I ended our Friday meeting, she stopped at the door, turned around, and sat back down in the chair.
“I have to tell you something.”
“You are NOTHING like people think outside of your team.”
“How should I take that?”
“Oh, it’s a good thing. Your team loves working for you. They all think you’re nice, they believe you value their ideas and effort, and everything is so smooth around here,” she said. “But everyone else in this building is scared shitless of you. They think you’re mean and crazy.”
After I stopped laughing, I asked why.
“People see you come downstairs and you often appear angry. They say you’re often talking to yourself. Some talk about you going into the director’s office and yelling at him and if you yell at your boss and you’re still here…he must be scared of you.”
My boss was far from scared of me. I did this once and I knew I had the relationship with the guy to have this kind of interaction without ruining things there.
Showing my commitment to winning through a refusal to lose instilled a belief in my team and they began to exhibit similar qualities.I made lots of mistakes as a leader, but I had enough good moments to know that effective leaders motivate and execute.
DeShone Kizer exhibits these two skills from the pocket against Michigan State. The first place is about walking the talk.
Kizer delivers an accurate target that requires him to know in advance that he would be bent like a folding chair in the process. There’s skill involved for sure, but it’s the grit that sends a message to teammates and opponents that he believes he can win. If he’s willing to sacrifice, so should they.
The second play is manipulation of the defense to set up a bold throw that requires trust and belief in this teammate.
I don’t know what kind of leader Kizer is in the locker room or the practice field, but he trusts his teammates and, at least in this game, he does a lot for them to trust him back.
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