The Year of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with its related mandates for quarantine and isolation, have disrupted our lives for a calendar year.  That along with economic downturn, political and societal unrest, and one of the worst snow/ice storms in history have all combined as a recipe for mental and emotional disaster.  Businesses have collapsed, entrepreneurs have given up on dreams, savings have dwindled in order to keep families afloat, and the majority of news is doom and gloom. Yet, through these most difficult situations, some businesses have put their hands to the plow, others have reinvented themselves, and some business are thriving. Despite the climate of adversity and uncertainty, failure is not an option and giving up is not on the radar.  Out of the midst of the bleak darkness, individuals have emerged to lead and encourage us forward.

What is a leader and how does one become a leader?

Leaders come from all walks of life and numerous titles including, moms, dads, nurses, physicians, police officers, firefighters, military, coaches, teachers, academic administrators, corporate executives…fill-in-the-blank for others.  Scholars have developed numerous leadership theories including trait, contingency, situational, behavioral, participative, transactional, and transformational. Much has been written and published about leaders and leadership qualities.  However, leadership does not come from written words on paper. Leadership comes from the heart and deep within the soul to inspire others to reach heights never before believed attainable. Leaders take others to places they couldn’t get to on their own.

It’s been said that tough times don’t last; but sometimes tough times do last longer than anticipated. When times get tough, leaders serve.  Leaders serve their customers, their employees, and their families.  Service is naturally a part of leadership, though few may realize it. Jesus, the Leader of All Nations, states in Mark 10:45,

For even the son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.

If the greatest leader in history came to serve, then the ability to serve is a definite prerequisite to leadership. The ability to make ethical decisions during the most difficult times separates leaders and their leadership ability. Faith-informed discernment allows leaders to thoughtfully, intelligently, and prayerfully examine issues upon which lives may be affected by decisions made. Ethical decisions during especially difficult times are tough and not always popular; but ethical decisions are righteous. This country and all professions desperately need leaders with the ability to prayerfully make ethical decisions on behalf of stakeholders.

Martin Luther King, Jr

Leaders step up when others step away. 

Leaders understand sweat equity is a prerequisite to accepting a challenge.  Leaders do not have the time to take on additional tasks, but they take on additional tasks anyway.  Leaders arrive early, stay late, and pick up the slack from those who choose to arrive late and leave early. Leaders do not fear the critics sitting on the sidelines who are quick to point out problems, slow to contribute time and effort towards solutions, and disappear to the comfort of apathy. Leaders are not the loudest voice, but they take the loudest initiative.  Leaders are motivated, driven, inspirational, courageous, relentless, and resilient. Their work ethic is unquestioned, their spirit and enthusiasm are contagious, and they don’t waver. Leaders are confident and poised. They have a sense of humor and display good, common sense. Leaders will not accept “no” for an answer, they don’t insert the word “not” after the phrase “I am.” Leaders think “good enough” isn’t good enough, they expect the best of themselves and of those around them. Leaders encourage and comfort. They are nurturing, loving, and kind. They lead not by words, but by example. Leaders work hard, play hard, and rest hard. They are steady under pressure and calm under crisis because leaders understand neutral thinking is a high-performance strategy.

Leaders overcome adversity, fatigue, setbacks, disappointments, and heartbreak. They experience the highest highs and the lowest lows, yet they remain focused and on course. They set lofty goals and develop objectives to accomplish those goals. Leaders sympathize and empathize, yet maintain the discipline to make tough decisions. They are sincere and respectful. Leaders weren’t born with the ability to lead. They learned from others, applied that knowledge to their daily lives, and developed into men and women of character.

Thank you, moms and dads, for leading our families. 

Thank you, first responders and medical teams, for taking the lead to care of us and our families.  Thank you, teachers for keeping us inspired and leading us to classrooms outside of the boundaries of buildings.  Thank you coaches, athletic trainers, and athletics support staff for leading the challenge to find a way to continue with competitions despite spectator limitations, COVID-19 testing, travel protocol adjustments, all the while remaining flexible to fluid and rapid change.  Thank you, academic administrators for leading us in the pursuit of education through innovative uses of technology.  Thank you, corporate executives, for leading through the difficulties of keeping our country in business and keeping our economy moving forward.  Thank you, United States military forces, for your selfless mission of leadership, service, and protection for our country.  Thank you, God, for leading us and hearing our prayers.

What about you, what about me, what about us? 

Can we lead?  Can we learn to lead? Yes.  Don’t fear the uncomfortable feeling of accepting the risk to take on new responsibilities. Learn all you can about successful leaders.  There are books, articles, websites, documentaries, podcasts, and other outlets with convenient but powerful lessons that you can apply to your daily life.  Study leaders from yesterday and today. Leaders are our past, our present, and leaders are our future. Apply the best of their leadership principles to develop into a leader of tomorrow. Ordinary men and women, with a steadfast resolve and a focused determination on tomorrow, can become extraordinary leaders today. 

UMHB’s School of Exercise and Sport Science provides distinctive academic programs which prepare undergraduate and graduate students to engage in healthy behaviors and active lifestyles and pursue exciting careers in the dynamic sport and fitness industry. For more information, we invite you to visit our website, or stop by for a visit!