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The Leadership Filter – Champions of Principle

Leadership PrinciplesAlthough I knew almost nothing about the game at the time, I coached my son’s soccer team when he was only four years old.   I embarked upon the season determined to learn enough about soccer to be able to teach the boys a few fundamentals.  To my great surprise, I learned more than I bargained for, and my biggest lesson came packaged in the form of my smallest player, a feisty young man named Will.   

During our first game, Will took the field with fire in his eyes.  It wasn’t long before he literally tackled and punched other kids on the field (on both the opposing team and his own).  I took him to the sidelines, bent down on my knees, looked him in the eyes, and asked him to calm down and play as a good sport.  He eagerly nodded in agreement, promising to do better.  We exchanged high fives, and he returned to the field.  The referee blew the whistle, play resumed and boom…the tackles were on and fists were flying yet again.   I realized very quickly that I needed a better strategy to address his fiery temper and aggressive behavior or it was going to be a long season.  

I was very certain that Will had heard and understood our conversation only moments earlier, but in the heat of the moment, his impulse to pummel fellow soccer players sounded louder than my little speech.  I needed a way to help him change the filter through which he processed those impulses.  So we agreed to two simple things:  1) Until demonstrating the ability to maintain his cool, Will would play with his hands clasped firmly behind his back, and 2) Will and I, along with the rest of the team, would talk about respecting others and maintaining a good attitude at every practice, before, during and after every game.    Win or lose, we agreed to play as champions of good sportsmanship.  


As human beings, we all have feelings and impulses that rise up within us in given situations.  Having those feelings or impulses is natural.  Controlling them is not always so natural.  We need a filter through which we can process our emotions, feelings and impulses.  Without a filter, our response to impulses is often unhealthy and even dangerous.  Principles become the medium through which we flow our thoughts, feelings, decisions, and responses to people and situations.    Successful leaders are grounded both in the head knowledge of the principles that guide them and the heart knowledge of living them out.

The time to decide what principles matter to you as a leader is before facing the heat of the moment.  Leaders must know the principles by which they will lead and be fully committed to living them out even and especially when your impulse to do otherwise rages loud in your head.

Successful leaders clearly and consistently communicate the principles by which they and their organizations will operate.  I’m sure that I had talked with my young soccer players prior to that game about the importance of good sportsmanship, but saying it once was clearly not enough.  They needed a steady diet of messages reminding them of this mantra, and a steady diet from that first game on is exactly what they got.  Did it work?  Well…


In the final game of the season, Will scored two goals…all while playing with his hands no longer clasped behind his back and without a single unsportsmanslike moment.  Finishing the game, my little fireball made a running leap into my arms in celebration.  We were both excited to have won our final game, but the words he said resonate still in my mind today:  “Coach, I did it!  I was a good sport and didn’t lose my temper not even one time!!!!”  

     Not a single mention of the goals…not a single mention that we had just won our last game, finishing the season with a perfect record.  

     What mattered to Will was the fact that he had played as a champion of good sportsmanship…and nothing could have made this coach any prouder.


Have you taken time to identify the core principles that will guide you as a leader every day?  Does your organization readily know the core principles that matter most to you?  If not, take time today to bring them to life …it’s time for all of us as tbl leaders to fully live as champions of our principles.


To your tbl success,