By Matt Paese, Ph.D.
Today, professional sports illuminates a contemporary leadership dilemma: what does it really mean to be a team leader?
For those of you with little interest in sports, give me a chance on this.
I should start by saying (with only mild embarrassment) that it’s a tough day for me. Tonight, my all-time sports hero, Brett Favre, will compete against the Green Bay Packers, the team for which he played for 16 years, the team he took to two Super Bowls and repeated playoffs, the team he came to define, the team I’ve cheered for since I was old enough to shout “Go Pack!” My team.
The Packers – a truly unique professional entity, owned by the citizens of an unassuming, unpretentious Wisconsin; the only team that makes you feel proud for eating cheese and wearing it on your head at the same time. Perhaps this un-self-conscious pride in things so mundane, the full ownership of what makes us unique, is part of what defines “the Packer team.” The absence of a glamorous backdrop has long provided Green Bay with a rarified brand of camaraderie. Being a member of our team means that you’re part of the combined Packer-Wisconsin community, and that team stands above anything that we as individuals bring to it.
Sound familiar? The Packers aren’t the only team like that. In fact there are many, and I’m sure you have your own. But tonight, we’re the one that everyone will be watching.
Favre was (I repeat, “was”) perhaps the most quintessential team leader that ever came to Green Bay. Gritty and competitive, boyish with a sense of fun, from similar, unassuming roots, he had a selfless dedication to the team that he showed week after week. He is a winner. He cannot be disputed as one of the toughest players ever to have played the game, never having missed a start in his 16 years as a Packer, or in his 19 games since then with the New York Jets, and now with <choke> the Minnesota Vikings. We Packer fans love Brett Favre, and we always will.
But a Viking? I thought he was a Packer – forever! The Vikings are the Packers’ arch enemy. No region’s newspapers and blogs ever produced more bile-filled anti-Packer and anti-Favre rhetoric than the Twin Cities. Favre, a Viking? This can’t be.
Favre quipped recently that those who are worried about his legacy should be reminded that it’s HIS legacy, not theirs. And this is where he lost me. You see, I’m still on the team, and even though he’s not, the manner of Favre’s departure affects me. Being on a team is one of our most basic needs. To come together to celebrate accomplishment, mourn the lack thereof, and share a common purpose is perhaps one of the great gifts of being human, and leading such an endeavor is an even greater gift.
Leaders move on, especially the great ones, and we expect that. But as they make transitions from one assignment to the next, I hope that leaders always remember that the positive effects of their leadership can long outlast their tenure in the job.
Good luck tonight Brett. We’ll always miss you on the team that used to be yours.
Matt Paese is the Vice President of Executive Solutions for Development Dimensions International (DDI).