Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Foundation of leadership

**Speculation alert**

Devin Harris and Josh Howard are taking over leadership of the Dallas Mavericks.

No more Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse as team leaders. Why?

1. Devin and Josh Howard are better players.

2. Devin and Josh Howard are more self-confident.

This is good for the Dallas Mavericks. The self confidence, and the willfulness, of Devin and of Josh Howard are what will take the Mavs to the next level.

I have a lot of admiration for both Terry and Stackhouse. However, at heart, both are insecure about their abilities. At the absolute most crucial championship crunch moments - the ultimate winning moments - both Terry and Stackhouse play with courage, yet trepidation.

You cannot see this in the regular season. You cannot even see it early in a playoff series. You can only see it in a playoff series which is going bad, and which needs to be somehow turned around. Only at those moments will you notice Terry and Stackhouse playing with trepidation.

Does "trepidation" mean Terry and Stackhouse lack courage?

It does not. Both Terry and Stackhouse are courageous overachievers. Stackhouse has done more with his physical skills than 90% of players ever would have. Terry has done more with his physical skills than 99% of players ever would have.

In my context, trepidation means, at some level, Terry and Stackhouse fear losing because of what they perceive it will mean about them. At some level, they fear losing will mean they are not worthy.

If Devin and Howard lose, each will believe:
We lost. We got outplayed. But we were damn sure good enough. We were worthy. We just didn't concentrate hard enough. We didn't give good enough or tough enough effort. And I am damn sure pissed off about that. I'm pissed off at myself, and at every damn one of my teammates.

Devin and Josh Howard would die before either would believe they are not good enough to win.

Terry and Stackhouse each secretly suspect they are not good enough to win. They mostly believe they are good enough to win. They've told themselves, over and over throughout their careers, they are good enough to win. They train. They play with courage and guts. Yet, way way waaaay down, at their very cores, they suspect, maybe, juuuust ... maybe ... : Maybe I am not good enough to win. In places they are psychologically afraid to visit, they suspect, just a tiny bit: Maybe I am not worthy.

They have the tiniest, tiniest, tiiiinest specks of doubt. So tiny. Yet, a speck is all it takes to prevent them from being adequate leaders of a championship team. An NBA Championship is the ultimate head game. It is the ultimate test of will - the ultimate test of who a person is at their very core. A speck of doubt is all it takes to undermine a player as a leader. You don't want a team taking it's cues from a leader who has a speck of doubt.

Neither Devin nor Josh Howard have the tiniest speck of doubt about their abilities - nor, for that matter, do they doubt the abilities of any of their teammates. This absolute self-confidence is what is necessary.

It doesn't matter why Devin and Howard are confident. Maybe they are just ornery as hell. Maybe they are too dumb to know any different. The reason doesn't matter. They can be ornery (Ronnie Lott). They can be dumb (Ronnie Lo...? No! I didn't even think it.). The critical thing is that nothing, NOTHING IN THE WORLD can shake their self-confidence during difficult moments (Ronnie Lott!). And nothing can. Devin and Josh Howard are the leaders the Mavs need. This season, if you follow media reports and Avery Johnson interviews, you can see and read between the lines that both Devin and Howard are happily, pro-actively stepping into the leadership job.

And why wouldn't they? A possibility: In the fashion of true leaders, both Devin and Howard have known, in their hearts, that they should be leading this team. They've both imagined how they would lead the team. This scenario is not new for them. They've played it out in their heads over the past couple of years - as natural leaders would. Even if they felt it wasn't quite their time, they also felt, secretly, they could do the best job in the leadership role. They secretly, actually believed they were ready. As any true leader would.

Note: Devin

In his career, Devin has been lost during numerous on-court moments. He has been distraught during various portions of his career. I suspect Devin's angst has been due to his high standards for himself. I don't think he has doubted that he would become an outstanding player. Rather, I think he has failed to become an outstanding player as quickly as he desired. "How fast will I succeed?" is a very different question from "Will I ever succeed?" Devin's high standards caused him to suffer over the first question. I don't believe he ever doubted the answer to the second question. I doubted the answer to the second question for him. I don't believe he ever doubted it.

Something else about Devin: he is 6'3". If he were only two inches taller, and exclusively played shooting guard, the entire league would rave about Devin. He would be, right now, better than Ray Allen ever has been, for instance. Devin would be an All Star. Because of his defense, his elite speed, and his mental toughness, you would rather have him on your team than Tracey McGrady, for instance.

Note II: Dirk.

Dirk has the same speck of doubt as Terry and Stackhouse. Dirk has periods when he plays with haughtiness, and with righteous temper. This is good. Yet, Dirk's default temperament is pout. Why?

When Dirk goes to pout, he is wondering if he is good enough. He is wondering if he is truly worthy. It matters not that Dirk intellectually knows he is good enough. This is not a question of logic. What is at our core is not a question of logic. What's at our core is a question of spiritual declaration. We either declare we are good enough, and refuse to be knocked off our declaration, or we do not.

Dirk defaults to self-doubting pout. Devin and Josh Howard default to pissed off. They do not default to self-doubt. They default to madder and madder.

Devin and Josh Howard are unstable and high strung. Either is likely to break out in tears of frustration. Either is likely to shove, or throw a punch, and to maybe get suspended for a week, or for a playoff series. Either is likely to scream at their teammates, scream at the refs, or scream at their coaches. Which is the better leader: Dirk; or Devin and Josh?

Unstable and high strung do not matter. Spiritual declaration matters.

Note III: Spiritual declaration = absolute belief and committment


One way is to simply declare it: I am good enough, and no one can tell me different.

This is a type of genius. You have taken a stand. No one can knock you off of it, as no one can logically prove a negative. Naysayers can raise circumstance after circumstance, yet no circumstance can logically prove you are not good enough. You simply reply, in defiance of each proffered circumstance: "I am good enough." And that reply is good enough. If you don't climb down from your stand, you are there. You cannot be knocked off it.

A second way (and this is my preference) is to recognize that our souls - our spirits - are reflections of God. Therefore, if we have the physical strength to meet a challenge - then, as we are reflections of God - OF COURSE we have the spiritual strength to meet the challenge.

By spiritual strength, I mean: intellectual, emotional, willful, metaphysical strength(literally: beyond physical/earthly). I mean strength which we would have a hard time fully defining or explaining, if we even recognized all the elements of it, which we do not.

There is no reason to doubt our spiritual strength. Frithjof Schuon said: "The very word 'man' implies 'God'." Our souls have knowledge of a realm beyond this one. OF COURSE we have the spiritual strength to meet our challenges. There is no reason to doubt it.

Human doubt will inevitably arise. Yet, human doubt is unreasonable, and meaningless. Human doubt only arises because we are imperfect beings. Human doubt only arises because a loving God has given us an interesting obstacle to overcome.

The TRUTH is we have access to the spiritual strength to see us through any spiritual challenge. In any particular instance, we may or may not have the necessary physical strength. Yet, if the physical strength is there, we absolutely have the strength of spirit to carry us through. Never doubt it. The very word "man" implies "God". We have access to God's strength.

And THAT is why Godless Euro atheists do not make the best leaders. They do not get spiritual strength. Their houses are built upon sand.

If you want to lead from the very most solid and deep-set foundation, and through the very most difficult and gut-wrenching circumstances: you need to get spirituality. You need to get it. Then your house will be built upon rock.

Leaders lead where followers already want to go, yet had forgotten they wanted to go, and/or were too afraid to go without someone leading them.

In the crucible of the NBA, players want to believe they are worthy. Dirk and Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse want to believe they are worthy. Two children shall lead them.

Wanting to believe they are worthy is why a mediocre player would traditionally go to the Yankees, or the old Boston Celtics, and suddenly play like a champion. Upon arrival to the venerated team's locker room, the player would suddenly believe they were worthy, as in: "Wow! I'm wearing pinstripes! I am worthy!" or "I'm wearing Celtic green! I am worthy!"

This is also why a player or a team might struggle near the top for years, then suddenly break through with a vengeance. Observers might wonder: "How did they suddenly break through in such a dominant fashion?" Here's how: The team just got sick of it's own self doubt: "We are worthy, damn it, and we are BY GOD going to show everyone!"

One example of this would be the old Cowboys teams of the late sixties, aka "Next Year's Champions." They finally got fed up, then dominated the '71 season plus '72 Super Bowl. In the playoffs and Super Bowl, the Cowboys played in a way which left their opponents no opportunity for victory. The Dolphins had no chance in the Super Bowl. There was nothing the Dolphins could've done which would've resulted in victory. No combination of trick plays, tricky defensive blitzes, or lucky referee's calls could've added up to Dolphin victory. The Cowboys left nothing to chance.

That was a Dolphin team which went 17-0 the following season. The Cowboys were decimated with injuries the following season. I would've liked to have seen a healthy Cowboys team meet the Dolphins in the following season's Super Bowl. Would've been a heck of a Super Bowl.

Another example might've been the '83 Sixers of Julius Erving, and of Moses Malone's "Fo, fo, fo." playoffs prediction. After years of being near the top, yet being disappointed, the Sixers were invincible in '83. They, like the Cowboys before them, left nothing to chance. Also like the Cowboys before them, the Sixers were damaged by injuries the following season - especially Andrew Toney's shoulder injury.

Another example is Ben Hogan. He struggled and struggled in his career. He finally got fed up with his own self-doubt, and then he dominated. Then he was injured in an almost fatal auto accident. Then he came back from that and dominated again.

Martina Navrotilova was an example of this dynamic. I can remember rooting for her to break through and win. It seemed she was forever losing major championships. When she finally defeated Evert-Lloyd in a major, it was GAME OVER for the rest of womens tennis - for years afterwards.

Self-confidence was the reason these teams and individuals skipped right past the "barely victorious" stage, and went straight from "runner-up" to "dominant."

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