What if Almost Everything You Were Told About Leadership is Wrong?

I want the truth!
You can’t handle the truth!

So goes the memorable dynamic exchange between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in the 1992 movie A Few Good Men.  We, at least most of us, sympathize with Cruise’s character as he pushes relentlessly, risking his reputation and career in, pursuit of the truth.  But do we really want the truth?

The Galileo Effect.   Aristotle was smart.  Considered by most historians to be a genius.  But he was wrong about one thing.  He taught that that heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones.  Galileo proved that wrong.  We now know that the equivalence principle proves all objects fall at the same rate in a gravitational field.  A-dog was big time wrong.  Galileo also challenged the Catholic Church.  Yes, he dared to contest the church’s position of a geocentric world.  He too proved that to be wrong.

What about the team captain principle?  You know, appoint or assign several players to the role of team captain and you’ll have your internal leadership problem solved.  Or, at least somewhat solved.

Dead wrong.  Those, coaches and leadership educators that cling to the team captain model are on the wrong end of the 21st Century practice of peer leadership.  Dead wrong.  Well, educators like Jeff Janssen, still the most popular in the field of athletics, are compelled to defend their models built in the 20th Century.  But today we know soooo much more.

Today, we know that everyone can, and will, become a leader; even if it’s simply in their own household as a parent.  Simple example, but if you feel the need to put down the idea of everyone learning to lead you are dead wrong.  And I’m willing to deal with the backlash.

Let me reply by saying that modern science—neuroscience—proves that peer-to-peer interactions produce higher quality solutions to problems than  alone or even peer-to-superior relations.  And get this; the solutions are produced at a quicker rate than when the challenge is taken on by a lone wolf.  Oh, let’s not forget that anxiety inhibits learning.  And our studies show anxiety is greater when people don’t know how others will respond to their leadership.  Yes, a leader in every locker solves this.That said…

Mankind has proven resistant to change, regardless of the evidence.  We favor “facts” that conform to our views, even in the face of conflicting information or outright contradiction.  Genuine challenges to established wisdom cause turmoil, because they impeach the establishment and its undeniable “truths.”  So in a world of constant change, we paradoxically find a recalcitrant world.  The traditional practice of team captains marches on.

And let’s face it, a leader in every locker is heresy to most coaches.  I’ve presented my findings and suggestions to many coaches, and audiences are quick to hark on the past.  “If it worked for Bob Knight, it’ll work for me.”  But what if everything you learned is wrong?

Remember, when Galileo and his telescope publicly challenged the geocentric view of the universe—established and accepted as Catholic dogma—the outcry was fanatical.  He was eventually arrested, tried, and imprisoned for this act.  Heresy said the masses.  Sadly, he died while under house arrest.

Fortunately, objecting to poor theory or unfounded knowledge is far less dangerous today.  My research findings are clear; a leader in every locker trumps a few leaders in a few lockers.  However, this only happens when the coach takes responsibility for creating a learning environment in which every student-athlete feels accepted in their leadership role.

But have we really overcome our tendency to condemn those who challenge a new view of the world.  The unfortunate reality is that even with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there are many who perpetually lay faith in existing truths—which are no longer, in fact, supported by scientific investigation.  My guess is it will be about another decade before the mainstream coach is ready to accept the role of leadership educator and educate every student-athlete to become a leader.


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