On the sports field, every jersey tells a story. I grew up playing America’s past time, the great sport of baseball. The rules of the game required us to wear jerseys. The jersey usually had to contain the team’s name, the player’s last name, and the player’s number.
The contents of a jersey can tell you a lot about the player. The stories are told through each meticulous stitch of fabric that displays their name, number, and the patches honoring others. The words and numbers represent who they are as an individual and who they belong to as a team.
Every morning we prepare to go to work, we put our leadership jerseys on. It may be a dress shirt, blouse, apron, coveralls, or a uniform. Whatever the attire, it tells the story of who we are and what we represent. I often wonder if we wore an actual jersey in leadership, what would it look like?
In this week’s post, we breakdown down four areas of a jersey and what they mean to us in leadership:
Name on the Back
As you start your little league career, you get your first name put on the back of the jersey. As you mature and play at a more competitive level, your first name is replaced with your last name. When you step onto the field of play, you carry across your back those you represent past, present, and future.
I have always felt a deep connection with my last name. It establishes a standard for which I live my life. That eight-letter last name represents generations of people who paved the way for me to be who I am today. Most of which, I never knew. Country music singer Dierk’s Bentley has a great song entitled, My Last Name. The lyrics say, “Daddy always told me far back as I recall…Son, you’re part of somethin’…You represent us all…So keep it how you got it, as solid as it came…it’s my last name.”
As leaders, we need to remember what the name on the back represents and do well by it. Whether we inherited it, married into it, were adopted into it, or need to break the chain of it, it’s our last name. There was likely sacrifice in scarcity and perseverance in trying times that afforded us the opportunity to succeed right here, right now. You represent them all.
Name on the Front
The name on the front represents the team we play for. It takes the name on the back of the jersey and applies it to a cause greater than oneself. The team name associates us with a group of people that we play the game with. A group that should be collectively working towards a common objective. Individual achievement is secondary to the team’s success.
We all serve on a team in our leadership worlds. The name of the organization is proudly written across our chests. That name on the chest is literally bigger than the one on the back. Figuratively, that is the way it should be. WE should be greater than ME. Our personal achievement should be secondary in size to the organization’s success.
Too often leaders get this backwards. Their individual success and professional ambition appears in larger font than the team’s. The greatest leaders display their names in lowercase and the team’s in uppercase. It establishes their priority.
In most sports, you cannot have the same number as another player (except football, as long as they are not on the field at the same time). You share the name on the front, and some players even share the name on the back, but the number represents something unique to you on the team. Something special to you that no one else has, it sets you apart.
Every leader has a different uniform number. None of us are wired the same. We lead from different experiences, backgrounds, skill sets, and styles. When we truly represent the uniqueness of the number on our leadership jersey, we appear authentic and genuine to those we lead. People follow real. Failing to remain true to who we are is like me wearing a Mike Trout (best player in Major League Baseball for non-baseball fans) jersey, I’m an imposter. I cannot and will not ever be him, I can only be uniquely me. Time will either expose me for who I am or who I am not.
Too easily, we can be led to believe that we need to change who we are. We simply need to capitalize on our strengths, be cognizant of our weaknesses, and adapt when necessary to the environment. Be uniquely you, you are numbered that way for a reason.
Patches on Sleeves
The sleeve is a place for honoring someone or something. It typically comes in the form of a patch. Team’s wear American Flags, a retired player’s number, or someone’s number that the sports world recently lost. Whoever or whatever it is, it has made a large enough impact on that particular sport that the placement of the patch was worthy of the designation. It demonstrates the sport’s gratitude for someone or something that interceded the history of the sport.
Interceders are, “someone or something that redirected our journeys.” The honoree of the patch left the game better than they found it. That is our calling as leaders, it is the legacy that we leave. When we hang our leadership cleats up, we will be measured by one question. Did we leave the organization and the people we led better than we found them?
Each day we lace ’em up to take the field in leadership, we wear those who interceded our journeys on our sleeves. Legends who left us better than they found us. We demonstrate gratitude by representing their legacy well, each and every time we put the jersey on.
Think back for a moment to your playing days or leadership career. Who were those coaches/leaders and teammates of yours that wore the jersey well? Better yet, who were the ones that represented their last name well, played the unique role their number afforded them to, and used both the last name and number for the greater good of the team? The names that come to mind deserve a patch on your sleeve.
Are you leading well enough in your world to deserve a patch? Are you building your name or bettering others? The answer to that question combined with a dash of honest reflection should give you a good gauge of where you stand. Every jersey tells a story, tell it well.