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Football, Leadership and Writing: Where’s My Spaceship?

It’s mid-week and I’ve been thinking about my weekend. On Saturday night I spent my valuable time watching football (…probably should have been writing instead).

I watched the Florida game and witnessed one of the saddest spectacles of sport: a team totally disintegrating during a game. The primary quarterback somehow lost the ability to lead that group of players and the backup was too inexperienced, even though the other players showed signs of being willing to be led by him. It reminded me of how different things can be given different leadership.

A few years ago, Tim Tebow led the Florida team and there was no question about where they were going. Tebow has that quality of leadership that makes others coalesce into a group that is more than the sum of the individuals participating. That’s the very definition of “team.” You might not like Tim’s public expression of his religion, but he is definitely a leader as he showed when he got the fleeting chance to steer the Broncos to a post-season win.

In the ego-driven world of the NFL, quarterbacks are supposed to lead the team on the field, but not create a stir off of it. Various teams turned down the opportunity to have him play for them based on some very dubious reasons. Considering that the man has spring-steel in his arms, saying that he can’t throw is pretty weak! Throwing motion can be changed, as he’s demonstrated. His problem is that he attracts too much attention and that makes management uncomfortable.

Back to Saturday night: It’s was interesting night, seeing teams win and loose – mostly due to the leadership factor or lack thereof. Once I got over missing Tebow, I began to relate football to the greater game that is being played with businesses and countries and people’s lives everyday. You don’t have to wait until the weekend to see some would-be leaders engage in folly while others demonstrate the utmost resolve. The world is a great classroom, if you take the time to observe.

It so happens that the concept of leadership has been on my mind a lot recently. I tried to show how it might appear in a man who was not thinking about leading or intending to do anything heroic, but instead, just working at his job in my story, “The Time of The Cat.” My hero, Declan Dunham, starts out his day working at his, admittedly rather daring, job and ends up leading a small group in an attempt to save the world.

The football watching experience made me wonder how well I did in representing leadership in my writing. So, I looked up some quotes on the subject. Here are three that describe my hero paired with my comments:

  • “One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” – Arnold Glasow

In the story, Dec gradually discovers the alien invasion plans and works as hard as he can to stop them before the plans fully come together.

  • “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.” – Peter Drucker

He doesn’t worry about public relations or polls, he simply lets circumstances direct him towards the most disruptive actions he can immediately carry out. In other words, talking about what you’re going to do doesn’t hold a candle to actually doing something, as the next quote reiterates.

  • “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” – George Patton

Dec starts out way behind in the information department, not knowing what is happening and constantly playing catch-up until nearly the end of the story. However, he instinctively knows the value of positive action. He doesn’t dither around wondering what to do, but instead does whatever he can that might provide additional clarity to the situation and which might set the enemy back some in their plans.

Comparing his character to the following two additional quotes about leadership generates a little additional clarity:

  • “The supreme quality of leadership is integrity.” – Dwight Eisenhower

While Dec is not above co-opting any resources available to further his goal of stopping the alien invasion, he consistently acts in a manner designed to benefit all of mankind. When he steals a car, it is manifestly necessary. He does sometimes seem to enjoy taking advantage of other people’s stupidity, but it’s more in the nature of a lesson to them, rather than for personal gain.

  • “There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage.” – Fuchan Yuan

Finally, he doesn’t brag – much – (he’s not perfect), but he always is clear on what to do when the chips are down and he doesn’t stop to worry much about doing it either.

Now, let’s see if I can tie these various ideas together in a way that makes sense: When I wrote the story, I was partly motivated by my increasing level of frustration with what I see as the gradual deterioration of individual freedom and the foreclosure of opportunity that is becoming endemic in modern life. It seems clear to me that we (humans as a group) need a new way to live together. We’ve essentially reached the end of the road for our modified tribal behavior. We can either reset in one of the periodic violent episodes that history chronicles and then go back to doing the same thing over again, or we can reset and do something different.

Sometimes that happens. For example, the Black Death, in the period around 1350 AD, killed so many people in Europe that labor became scarce. The survivors were motivated to question authority, both secular and religious, since neither had been able to save them from the plague. The combination of these two factors, in part, led to a new way of doing things. People started looking for ways to mechanize production such as the printing press, mills for grain and cloth and so on. This eventually gave birth to the Renaissance; a break-point of human existence.

You might disagree, but I think that the world’s current political leaders are out-of-touch and focused primarily on their own agendas, driven by polling and living elaborate lives at public expense. None of them seem to recognize the negative effect that ideologically-driven policies have on human potential and advancement. As has been aptly observed numerous times, you can’t lead from behind, especially while worrying about what people think of you. Just as football teams fail without leadership, we’re all collectively suffering from the same problem; a lack of leadership paired with a lack of vision.

My hero, Dec, represents every man’s desire to take positive action to deal with problems. He doesn’t stop to ask for permission or wonder about legality or hurting feelings when he decides to act. Maybe we need more of that decisiveness in our own individual lives. My greater purpose in creating Dec’s character was to elucidate my belief that it’s time for new ways of thinking to arise; ways that will lead us into a new phase of advancement and allow us to provide scope for greater fulfillment of individual potential.

When I was in elementary school, it seemed obvious that space travel would be common by now. All I’m getting is a phone that tracks everything I do and a car that beeps an unneeded warning when I deliberately change lanes.  So, where’s my personal spaceship?



Should you want to read the book, here it is.

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