The Secret of Leadership
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According to former ESPN commentator Jason Romano, the secret to leadership on the field and at home is simple and surprising. The secret is service. Join us on FamilyLife Today.
The Secret of Leadership
Bob: Every one of us is a leader; every one of us has influence over others. Jason Romano says the key to our leadership/our effectiveness with others begins when we have the right perspective on life.
Jason: Every single day we wake up, we have a choice to make on who we’re going to serve. I look at it as this “I am third,” model. Hopefully, if you’re a follower of Christ, you’re going to look to serve the Lord first; but then, it’s others second, and it’s ourselves third. I think the best leaders—stay-at-home moms all the way up to vice presidents of large corporations—have to make a decision every day: “What are they going to wear in terms of that uniform? Are they going to serve themselves first or are they going to serve God and then others first?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, February 4th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. There are principles of effective leadership that apply to every one of us, no matter what setting we’re leading in. We’re going to explore those principles with Jason Romano today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I know exactly what’s going on here.
Bob: Yes; I mean—
Dave: What’s going on here, Bob?
Bob: You said, “We should have my friend, Jason, on FamilyLife Today—
Ann: Oh, yes; Dave’s been excited about this.
Bob: —“to talk about leadership.” I go, “This is because the game’s coming up”; right? You’re thinking you guys can get together, you can talk football/you can talk about what’s going on. This has nothing to do with his book or leadership at all; does it?
Dave: No; it has nothing to do with anything but the game. [Laughter] The Detroit Lions are going to win this year! [Laughter] Oh wait; I forgot; they’re not going again!
Bob: Yes, I don’t think they’re on the schedule for this one.
Dave: Not going to quite happen.
Bob: Tell everybody about your friend, Jason.
Dave: Well, Jason Romano’s with us. I don’t know when we first met. Do you know, Jason?
Jason: The first time I actually introduced myself was when I had you on my show/on my podcast, and we talked about Vertical Marriage.
Dave: That was it.
Jason: But I’ve watched you at our conferences with PAO [Pro Athletes Outreach] come and speak. I kind of, from a glance, knew who you were.
Dave: Yes; this is Jason that was with ESPN for 17 years?
Jason: Yes; right.
Dave: Yes; and you’ll tell us a little bit about some of the jobs you did. But now, it’s pretty exciting what you’re doing; and we’ll hear about that as well. You left ESPN to sort of go to a higher calling.
Jason: Yes, exactly.
Dave: We’ve been involved together with Pro Athletes Outreach, which many people don’t know about. It’s a beautiful ministry that does conferences for pro athletes—baseball, football, I think there’s a NASCAR one, hockey—you name it. They bring in speakers; Ann and I have been there for 20 years, or so, doing stuff on marriage to help NFL couples. A lot of people come to Christ at that conference.
Dave: The last one we did for baseball—Mr. Emcee over there—Jason Romano was hosting the whole thing and did a great job: interviewed Darryl Strawberry and different things were happening.
You’ve written a couple of books. The first one—I hope we talk about this a little bit, even though today’s not about your forgiveness journey with your dad—that one was called Live to Forgive.
Dave: I have a similar journey; so when I read that, I was like, “Man, I’ve been there.”
This one is The Uniform of Leadership. Talk about that; why did you even decide to write a book on leadership?
Jason: First of all, I never wanted to be an author; I never wanted to write. That wasn’t the goal when I was in high school or college—it was to get into broadcasting—it was never to write books. But once you come through 17 years of working at ESPN, the most consistent question I get is: “What was it like?” and “Who are some of the famous people that you got to hang out with? What were some of the stories?”
I have a lot of them; and I thought, “What if I shared the stories that I experienced at ESPN with some of the famous people and some people that you would not have heard of?—but come from a biblical perspective (a) but, also, from a leadership perspective?—‘What were the leadership lessons that I learned from spending time or going through these experiences at ESPN?’” That’s where The Uniform of Leadership was born.
Bob: Well, and we should start right off by saying you’re not just talking about CEOs in corporate America or people who are captains of industry. When you talk about leadership, everybody’s a leader at some level; aren’t they?
Jason: Absolutely. It’s funny; I was preaching at my church when the book released back in the summer. We’re not fully reopened, but we were open enough in Connecticut at our church. This sweet old lady, probably in her late 70s, comes up; and she looks at me and she goes, “It’s really nice that you wrote a book, but I’m not a leader.” You know, they’re very bold and very open—a lot of these older ladies—and I love that!
She’s like, “I don’t need your book, because I’m not a leader.” I said, “Well, let me ask you a question.” I said, “Are you a mom? Are you a grandmother?” She’s like, “Yes, I’m a mom.” I said, “That qualifies you as a leader. In fact, if you’re breathing, you’re, in essence, a leader,” because leadership isn’t about—like you say, CEOs, or power, or titles, or status—it’s about influence, and it’s about serving.
Ann: You’re saying the stay-at-home mom—who has a two-year-old, a four-year-old, and a six-year-old—you’re saying, “You are a leader; you’re an influencer.”
Ann: That’s important for us to remember; because sometimes at that point of life, we feel like, “I’m having no influence; I have no life,” but we really do. We’re leaders in our family.
Jason: Oh, absolutely, especially if leadership is influence, which I believe it is/if leadership is serving, which Jesus said—He’s the ultimate leader—“I came not to be served but to serve.” If Jesus is modeling that, then yes, I think, if you’re a stay-at-home mom or even just a parent—whatever situation you’re in—you’re a leader. That’s your number-one first priority of being a leader: is your family and people at home. I think we get leadership kind of mixed up, because we think it’s just business; but leadership is more than title; it’s really influence.
Dave: It is interesting—because obviously, we’re older—we’re not as old as that grandma, but we’re not far away from her.
Ann: Yes we are! [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, we’re a long, long way away from that!
Bob: Years to go, Dave.
Dave: We’re years/decades away from that! [Laughter] But you know, as I remember the days when Ann’s talking about—because when she said that question, I’m like, “She’s remembering four-year-old, two-year-old poopy diapers—the whole thing.” She would often state that to me—usually at night, exhausted when we hit the sack, and try to get two hours of sleep, maybe—she would say, “I’m doing nothing with my life,”—you know—“I’m just a mom. I’m at home all day; I’m just chasing kids around; I’m disciplining; I’m exhausted; I’m not doing anything.” I’d be saying what you’re saying, Jason: “Oh no, you’re a…”; but it’s hard to feel that way at that point.
Here’s where I’m going with this—you call your book The Uniform of Leadership—I’m like, “What do you mean by that?” But as I read it, I’m like, Oh, there’s this jersey”—and obviously, you connect it to sports.
Dave: Talk about that; because that’s the thing that a mom, or dad, or anybody needs to realize—
Ann: —or grandparents.
Dave: “I am putting on a jersey.”
Jason: —every day.
Dave: What does that—because that’s a metaphor you use—explain that, because I think that works. When you understand that, it changes your perspective.
Jason: Well, it’s certainly connected to sports, of course; because that’s what I’ve lived through—
Dave: —because everything is; right? [Laughter]
Jason: Of course—right Dave?—come on now; sports is everything! [Laughter]
No; when I wake up every day, I make a decision on who I’m going to serve first; that’s kind of how I looked at this. So many times in my daily walk, my flesh kicks in/my ego kicks in; and the idea of serving goes completely to serving me. But every single day we wake up, we have a choice to make on who we’re going to serve. I look at it as this “I am third,” model, which I talked about in the book. Hopefully, if you’re a follower of Christ and you’re listening to this, you’re going to look to serve the Lord first; but then, it’s others second, and it’s ourselves third. It’s this “I am third”: God first, others second, ourselves third.
The uniform of leadership—putting on that uniform every day—think about a uniform and what it looks like; right? Especially, I use the example of the New York Mets; that’s the baseball team that I grew up watching. It’s been a long time since they’ve won anything, as well, Dave; but the uniform that the Mets’ wear has the Mets’ name on the front, and it has the name of the player on the back.
If I’m waking up every day, and I’m choosing to serve others first, I’m wearing my uniform properly. But for so many of us—I don’t care what you believe but, especially, even as Christians—we wake up; and the very first thing we think about is ourselves and taking care of ourselves; and “What is this day going to be like for Jason?” I’m wearing, in that sense, the uniform of leadership backwards. The name on the back is who I’m playing for, not the name on the front.
That’s where, every single day, when we wake up, we have a choice to make. I think the best leaders—stay-at-home moms all the way up to vice presidents of large corporations—have to make a decision every day: “What are they going to wear in terms of that uniform? Are they going to serve themselves first?—or are they going to serve God and then others first?”
Dave: Yes; as you know, the jersey in a sports situation is revered in a sense, especially, by the athlete. I mean, obviously/you know, I was the chaplain for
33 seasons in the NFL. An NFL jersey—same thing as a major league or soccer; you name it—when you get to that level, and they put your name on a Lions’ jersey, it is like it changes who you are.
Jason: It’s an identifier.
Dave: Yes; you step up, like, “I’m putting on this jersey right now; I have to represent that.”
One of the things I did years ago—and it’s your “leadership is serving” thing—one day, after a Lions game/another loss, I’m standing there [Laughter]—I mean, probably,
20 years in as being a chaplain—and what I typically would do after a game is just sort of be there; you know, walk around, talk to guys in front of the locker. Often, they’ve lost; so we’re talking about that. Maybe a guy got injured—whatever—I’m trying to be pastoral and a light for Christ in the locker room.
Here’s what happened. I’m standing there, one day, looking around, thinking, “What’s the best thing I could do right now to lead in this moment?” I’m looking at this locker room, like, “I’m going to do the same thing again; I’m going to walk over and talk to that guy and that guy.” Some of them want to talk to you, some of them will just get their stuff and get out of there.
Here’s what hits me: “I should help. I should serve. What’s that look like?” I’m watching the equipment guys; there are about seven or eight of them. Two or three are paid; the rest are volunteers. They are packing up all the guys’ stuff—cleats, shoulder pads, helmets, jerseys, pants—everything goes in a bag/the whole thing. I’m watching this; and I’m like, “Hey, I’ll go help those guys.” They actually put on hospital gloves because of blood and stuff on the jerseys.
Long story short, I go over to the equipment guys and go, “Hey, man, where do you get those gloves? I want to help you.” You know what the guy says? “Oh yes, like you’re going to help!” I go, “No; can I not help?” He goes, “Dude, you’re the chaplain. Get out of here; go do your spiritual thing.” That’s what he said.
Bob: Wow; wow.
Dave: He was sort of mad at me.
I kept looking around, like, “Oh, the gloves are in the training room!” I went and got them, and I just started looking at what they did.
By the way, one of the hardest things to do is take an NFL jersey off shoulder pads! They’re taped on! [Laughter]
Jason: Yes, it is.
Dave: You have to peel them off, so that took some work.
Anyway, long story short, I started doing that every game. I never was asked, just started doing it. All I know is, like the third game, I memorized—I was kneeling down in front of Josh McCown’s locker, and I’m pulling this thing off. He leans over and goes [whispering], “I see what you’re doing.” I go, “What do you mean? What am I doing?”
He goes [whispering], “You’re being Jesus, man!” He goes, “The whole room is watching you.” I’m like, “What?!” He goes, “Dude, everybody’s seen this. They can’t understand why the chaplain is doing something he’s not supposed to be doing.”
I realized I was leading by serving. I tell you what; the next thing I know, the equipment guys are like, “Hey, dude, come back here!” I’m in the back of the bus with them; I get a jacket on the sideline—I never [before] got any clothes on the sideline—they’re like, “Yes; look at him; he’s just a chaplain.” But I became one of their best friends, you know?
Dave: When things were going on in their life, they are calling me up. They were texting me: “Hey, give me your number,” and I’m in. I thought, “All that was serving,”—which is leadership—that’s what you keep talking about over and over in your book.
Jason: It’s Jesus saying, “Deny yourself”; right? I mean, that’s what it is; that’s the perfect example.
I remember, at ESPN one time, we had Colt McCoy. Do you guys remember Colt?—
Jason: —played with Texas; I think he’s with the New York Giants this season. Colt came to ESPN; and at that time, he was a highly-touted, Heisman trophy-type candidate, coming to ESPN to do a bunch of interviews. He had his Texas/he went to University of Texas, Longhorns/had his Longhorn staff with him. Usually it was about six/seven deep when we would welcome a guest to ESPN and take them around.
We ended up in the cafeteria for about an hour before one of our next interviews. ESPN cafeteria—real big; picture a college campus—and that’s ESPN, in that sense. We go to the cafeteria; and for some reason, one of the requests was to get a couple gallons of milk. It was in the morning; people wanted—I don’t even remember; like, “How do we have gallons of milk at ESPN?”—[Laughter]—but what I do remember was I was the one responsible for getting those gallons and making sure that whoever was requesting them was taken care of.
Here’s Colt McCoy; when everybody else is sitting and watching me struggle with two gallons of milk, and these other things that I’m carrying, Colt gets up, comes over; he grabs a couple of gallons off me—he’s like, “I got you, man. Let me take this for you.” This is very small; you’d say, “Hopefully, any human that would see that would help”; but nobody else got up. Now, Colt was the last person I thought would get up; because he’s Colt McCoy! At that point, just be—“You’re our guest here. Be the superstar; be the Heisman trophy candidate,”—but he got up.
It’s little things like that—like what you [Dave] did; like what Colt does—that I think (a) represents who Christ is; (b) is the ultimate representation of what leadership is about.
Dave: Yes; thinking about what you’ve said in your book about—“Serving is leadership; leadership is serving,”—I thought, “Here’s what happened to me. I stood in the locker room, I saw a need; I met it. I come home; I don’t do the same thing.”
Ann: That’s what I was going to ask.
Dave: Oh, there she goes!
Ann: I was going to ask, “Is it harder to serve at home than it is at work?”
Jason: I think so; I think because you become comfortable at home. You come set in your ways. I have this struggle. I have no problem when I’m here with you guys, or I’m at work, or I’m out; and I come home and it’s like, “What are we having for dinner, honey?” My mind goes right to where I’m comfortable.
Ann: “Serve me.”
Dave: “Who’s going to serve me?”
Jason: You have to remember the love languages here—that’s another whole story for another time—“What’s my wife’s love language?” Well, hers is acts of service. I have to get up, and I have to serve her and help her; and that’s not my love language.
Ann: I’m going to give you all a secret: “Serving is pretty much everybody’s love language.” [Laughter]
Jason: Ah, so true.
Bob: Think about this: I mean, when we get up, we go to work; and then work is over, and we go home to—
Jason: —rest; yes.
Ann: And women get up and go to work,—
Ann: —and then they come home to go to work.
Bob: I’m thinking about a friend of mine, who years ago, told me this; I thought this was so smart. He said, “When I leave the office in the afternoon, there’s a spot that’s about a mile from where I live.” He said, “I will pull off for about five minutes before I get home”; and he says, “and I will tell myself, ‘You are about to go to your second job, and you better strap it on and be just as good there.’”
You’re not going home to rest and be served; you’re going into the next area of where you’re hired to work.
Dave: It’s really your most important job.
Jason: That’s a great point.
Ann: I’m just going to—just a tip, because I used to do this; and it was wrong—I would say things to Dave like: “I wish I could get home and sit on the couch,” “I wish I could come home and…”—that does not work. [Laughter] It doesn’t; does it?
Bob: Does not motivate a husband.
Jason: I’m going to give you my wife’s number. [Laughter]
Ann: I was sarcastic; I was hoping Dave would get the point. I wish I would have just gone in, sat on the couch or done whatever, and said, “Honey, I really need your help right now”; because I assumed [beforehand] that he knew it; I assumed that he would get up.
Here’s another tip: “Tell them exactly what you would like them to do.”
Bob: The wife who says, “And I’ve tried that; and my husband goes, “Can you just give me 15 minutes to just chill?; or he goes [sighing deeply], ‘Ahhh, okay; what do you need me to do…’” And she goes, “I don’t…” The next day, she just—
Ann: Then she says, “Forget it; I’ll do it myself.”
Dave: I’ve heard those exact words!
Jason: Oh, so have I.
Dave: I’m like, “I just said I’d do it!” “No, you didn’t say you’d do it; you said [huffing]4, ‘Okay…’”
Bob: Okay; Mr. Leadership, how can that wife—is there anything you’d recommend to her to do?
Dave: I love it; you called him Mr. Leadership! [Laughter]
Jason: Oh, I’m going to get in so much trouble! Listen, I’ve been married 21 years, and I’m not perfect by any means; but I will say a lot of what you explained I live through every day. Now, it’s important to communicate; and that’s on both ends. Remember, too, that communication is part of the leadership model. You really have to talk; you have to explain sometimes—guys need this more than women—exactly what you want.
Remember that it’s different situations. My wife works in a job, where she’s not sort of happy all the time in her role, whereas I’m like: “I get to do sports, and I get to interview all these people,” and “Guess what I did!” I’m very rarely in a “bad mood” coming from work, and that was the same way at ESPN. So it’s different, but I think communication has to be vital.
Dave: I know, for Ann, she’s joking; but she would come in, and sit on the couch, and be mad at me.
Dave: Then, when she started coming in on the couch and encouraging me—I don’t know; it was a different response—again, she wasn’t saying, “Hey, it’s awesome; you’re sitting there, watching the game, and not helping me,”—but no; you started to speak life into things that I was doing well.
Ann: —to even thank you, like, “Hey, thanks for doing the dishes tonight; that was a huge help.” That motivated you so much, like, “Oh, maybe I should do that again,” instead of me saying, “Well, about time you did the dishes! I do them every night.” I think that really is important in how we speak.
Bob: Mary Ann and I were at a Bible study one time, and the question that everybody—kind of the opener question was—“What’s something your spouse has done recently that you found romantic?”
I’m waiting, as we’re going around the circle, thinking—[Laughter]
Dave: Why is everybody laughing right now?
Bob: I’m thinking, “What is she going to say?”
Bob: “What’s she going to come up with?” I’m starting to think, “What have I done romantic in the last…” I’m thinking she’s going to go back to college when were dating! [Laughter]
Dave: You reached over and grabbed her hand right then! [Laughter]
Bob: I’m waiting to see what she’s going to say. It gets to her; and she said, “Well, I’ll tell you. This was last week. I was in the kitchen; I was doing the dishes. Without me saying anything, Bob got up, and came in, and grabbed a dish towel, and started drying dishes; and I didn’t even ask him to.” She said, “That was so romantic!” [Laughter]
Ann: Yes, Bob! Yes!
Bob: I’m going, “That was romantic? Are you kidding me?”
Ann: You know what it was?—you put on the home jersey.
Jason: Yes, you wore the uniform properly.
Bob: I can tell you what—then, every time I grabbed a dish towel from then, she goes, “I know what you’re doing, and I know what you’re thinking. [Laughter]
Dave: “It’s not going to end up that way!”
Bob: “It’s not going to work!”
Jason: “Find another way.” [Laughter]
I will say, too, what you said, Ann, was beautiful; because if you come in and you encourage Dave: “Thank you for doing the dishes”; Dave’s going to be like, “Okay, I’m going to bat for Ann.” You love each other anyway; but you’re going to go to battle for that woman on anything, because you feel loved; right?
In the business world, that’s the same way. We talk about bosses: the greatest leaders I’ve seen are people who show caring and love; and they invest in the person—not just in the employee; right?—relational equity that you’re building.
I think if somebody shows me—I’ve had great leaders, who were my bosses—but I’ve also had some bosses, who weren’t necessarily great leaders; but the ones, who loved me, who cared for me, who went and invested into me, I was going to go to battle for that person.
Jason: I’ll do anything they want, because I know that they care about me. I think that transfers over to the home.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Jason: You know, if you show each other that you care for each other—and even just picking up the dish towel, and doing the dishes, and drying them off without being asked—I think my wife would flip if I started vacuuming in the house without being asked.
Ann: Jason, yes; do this!
Jason: So I have to go home and do that tonight! [Laughter] But that’s a way of showing that you care—and then she’s going to go to battle for me; I’m going to go to battle for her—and that just makes the relationship so much better.
Dave: Yes; I mean, one of the themes in your book, over and over, is the people part.
Dave: Leadership isn’t just tasks and accomplishing great goals; it’s all about seeing people, caring for people, people feeling loved by you. I just thought it’s easy to do that, for me, in the locker room or at church; it’s harder to do that when I walk in the door. But who are the most valuable people in my life/in our lives?—our wives/our kids; your spouse/your children.
Jason: Yes; it’s your first line of defense.
Dave: They’re more important than the people you work with—I’m not saying they’re not/they matter—but it’s so easy to walk in the door and have, you know, “My boss is a 10; my wife’s a 7,”—what?!
Bob: I think the two words that we started with—influence and service as the definition of leadership—everybody’s an influencer, and everybody has opportunities to serve. You’re a leader as a mom, as a dad, a husband, a wife; even teenagers, who are listening—you’re a leader.
Bob: Use that influence; serve others. Get a copy of Jason’s book, The Uniform of Leadership: Lessons on True Success from My ESPN Life. We have copies of Jason’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy. Again, the title of the book is The Uniform of Leadership by Jason Romano. It’s available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call if you’d like to order a copy. Our number is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I want to come back to those two words we’ve talked about, service and influence. Here, at FamilyLife®, we’re committed to doing everything we can do to help you serve and influence others more effectively in your marriage, in your family, in your community. We want to help you effectively develop a godly marriage and family. We believe godly marriages and families can change the world one home at a time.
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We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow as we continue to talk about what effective leadership looks like in the home, in the workplace, in the community—how we can all do a better job of serving and influencing others. Jason Romano joins us, again, tomorrow. We hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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