“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – John F. Kennedy
I think President Kennedy was correct that opportunities for learning about leadership are all around us. I find leadership lessons in surprising places. Last week at the NIRSA (National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association) Region IV Conference, I shared some of those lessons from my past experiences with Recreational Sports.
My sophomore year in college, I won second place in a horseshoe tournament and have a medal (made of plastic) to prove it! I had no experience in horseshoes and imagine my roommate talked me into going. That takes us to Lesson #1 – Don’t be afraid to try something new. You may have skills you didn’t know you had. You may like something you never suspected you would. Fear of failure can be paralyzing, but isn’t that one of the lessons we try to share with students – that we can learn from failure. Are we willing to practice what we teach?
Later that year, a group of us went to play racquetball. As we were walking out of the residence hall, a florist was carrying in a couple of bouquets. I said (louder than I meant to) “I want one of those.” He stopped and said, “There’s a bucket full of single carnations in the van. Help yourself.” After he convinced us he was serious, we did and carried our carnations with us to play racquetball. Lesson #2 – Don’t be afraid to ask. You never know what possibilities the question will open up. I wasn’t seriously asking for a flower, but I got one and so did my friends. While rejection isn’t much fun, a “no” isn’t such a terrible thing.
My junior year as a resident assistant, I joined every single intramural team our floor had. I had one purpose, make sure we didn’t forfeit for lack of one person. That worked pretty well until the co-recreational softball game that may be the worst one on record at the University of Oklahoma. As soon as we saw the match-up, we knew that we would lose. The other team had been playing together for three or four years. We hadn’t even gotten together for practice. We played and lost by a lot! Lesson #3 – Be willing to show up – especially if you think it’s going to be difficult. You signed up for it, show up. Sometimes we don’t know everything that comes with the job or the leadership role. Being willing to show up and give it your best effort is a surprisingly important part of leadership and an important part of success.
My ups and downs as an “athlete” continued after college. I continue to learn lessons that apply to leadership and life including how difficult it is to get back on a horse, literally, after it throws you. Our work, our activities, our daily lives have lessons to teach us when we are open to them. What lessons have your activities taught you lately?