What is Leadership? (Part 1)

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The Pittsburgh Steelers circa 2012 have said goodbye to a lot of familiar faces.

James Farrior, Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, Chris Hoke, William Gay, Bryant McFadden, Chris Kemoeatu and Max Starks add up to 55 seasons or so of men “putting their hand in the pile” and playing extremely high quality Steelers football. Men who have been there, done that from pre-season and the dog days of training camp to the bright lights of the season ending Super Bowls.

Along with the expertise in which all these gents went about exhibiting their NFL-craftmanship, each brought a portion of leadership skills to the game. Some were blessed with more, some less, some less than less, yet all contributed in some fashion.

As the saying goes, “No one is completely worthless. They can always serve as a poor example.” (Funny how, years ago when just a fat kid, after getting into mondo-huge trouble yet again with my dad, even though my two younger brothers were in on it, dad says virtually that, and he was looking right at me. Go figure.)

It appears from a general perusing of football publications many pundits seem to believe that the sudden vacuum of 55 years disappearing from the Black n Gold in one fell swoop could be the derailing of the 2012 season before it even has a chance to get sweaty. And that lead me to thinking, which i know, can be a dangerous undertaking at any time for me but hey, it’s still the off-season, what else do i have but time?

So then, just what constitutes good leadership? Or more to the point, what is leadership? Is it years served? Water-cooler type talk with media compatriots and casual spectators on the fields of Latrobe (there’s no water-coolers for the media out there, but usually you can hornswaggle an errant Gatorade cup or two if you’re quick on your feet and a little bit devious) during training camps past has lead to discussion and some thinking out loud that double digit years in the NFL automatically cannonizes an individual into a leadership role.

I dunno…i played 2 years in college and another 8 seasons in the pros with Gary Anderson, who kicked in the league for 23 seasons, and i can truthfully say that Gary was a great kicker and an even better guy, but would i defer to him as a leader?


Okay, so just years of service don’t work if you’re not in the line of duty. Is there any way to quantify someone’s leadership skills in a way that can be numerically expressed, say the number of Super Bowls won/lost? Pro Bowls played in? All-Pro teams made?

Buff Bills great Jim Kelly lost four consecutive Super Bowls, do you think that dude could lead?


Terrell Owens made six Pro Bowl teams and five All-Pro teams. Would you look up to him as a leader?


Honors then, as such, doesn’t get it for me. All that stuff may follow, but none of it “makes” a leader.

After 12 hard earned years of sitting in locker rooms from Three Rivers to the one probably still covered in snow in the “Metro-dump,” mulling over topics such as this with other teammates while shelling and eating pistachio nuts, and watching as well as listening, i think this is where i stand, or sit (depending on the occasion) of this very debatable topic;

Leadership, in my eyes, is earned  not bestowed, seen in the walk, not heard in the talk, validated in surgical scars and bent body-parts, reflected in the attitude and actions of teammates, acknowledged in private conversations with coaches, teaches without being taught, preaches without uttering a word, convicts with a glance, stands alone in the forest of a riotous post-game winning locker room or blazes like the sun on a hot day in the smoldering quietness of a poor performance.

It’s simply there or it’s not, known by the individual but not tittled, accepted but not campaigned for. There’s just no way you can quantify leadership by any known statistic, but you sure can recognize it immediately.

And that’s the rub. Leadership in action is often out of sight of outsiders who are not privy to the inner machinations of the “locker-verse.” In the mini-universe of the locker room, actions speak louder than words. And yet words have their place at the appropriate time.

But all this gibberish and double-speak brings us back to the central theme. What in tarnation does leadership look like?

Hmmm…i feel a story or two coming on….