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What Aspiring Leaders Should Learn from an ESPN Broadcaster...

It is common in leadership training these days to use sports analogies to teach principles important in business success. Words like teamwork, perseverance, planning, and tenacity are all lessons from organized sports that directly apply in business. Countless illustrations can be made to reinforce those messages and their application for business leaders. I am a big sports fan, so I love using sports lessons in my training, but I think we may be missing the boat if we only look at those traditional sports analogies when training our aspiring leaders.

One of my favorite broadcasters in media today is Marty Smith, a reporter for ESPN. I like Marty's approach because he not only discusses the performance of the athletes and coaches that he interviews, but he strives to understand their full story, the humanity behind the athlete or coach. For a long time, I have held a belief that good leaders must invest in their people first. They do so without being required to, but out of genuine interest in the well-being of their team members.

Marty Smith exemplifies this approach in how he does his job, entertaining us, but all the while making genuine connections with his interview subjects. I've heard him say on more than one occasion, "We can only control three things each day...kindness, effort, and passion!" Of those three, the most omitted in teachings on leadership is kindness. It is puzzling, really, since it is not hard to be kind. In my opinion, kindness is Marty Smith's secret sauce, and as an aspiring leader, it should be yours too.

Marty illustrated his belief that kindness should come first in November 2019, following the Alabama - LSU game in Tuscaloosa, AL. While leaving the field after the game, Marty encountered local CBS reporter, Jack Patterson, taping a segment for his news broadcast. Jack, a fairly new reporter, was struggling to get the segment just right, when Marty stopped to offer some words of encouragement. Unbeknownst to Marty, the encounter was being taped and Jack shared it on his Twitter account later that night. It was such a little thing, but to Jack, it meant the world. As leaders, we often forget that the little things can make the biggest impact.

In November 2020, the college football world and the University of Kentucky lost a kind man that served as Kentucky's offensive line coach, John Schlarman. During the celebration of life that followed his death, former colleague and current West Virginia head coach, Neal Brown, spoke and shared some of John's philosophies on coaching and life. The one that resonated most with me was John's belief in the following, "Work hard, do your best, and love your people!" Love your people? Wow! So simple, yet so effective. Listening to his players and fellow coaches talk about John, it was obvious to me that the bond he forged with them by simply loving them, was unbreakable.

As leaders, the ultimate reward is for our team members to want to follow us, regardless of the circumstances. The only way to make sure that happens, in my opinion, is to follow the advice of Marty Smith and John Schlarman...Show kindness and love your people! If you do that, you'll build a true bond with your team, a level of trust that will endure and that will enable your organization to grow into a high performing unit and you into a better leader!

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