Sunday, May 09, 2010

Leadership Lessons for Pastors and Church Leaders from Miracle

The movie Miracle, about the 1980 US Men’s Hockey Team that beat the Soviets, has a number of terrific lessons for pastors and church leaders. I recommend the film, and have included some YouTube clips below.

Not all-star teams, but a team that plays together

Herb Brooks had intensely studied the Soviet team who won the gold medal in the previous five Olympics. He knew that the general strategy -- assemble a team composed of the best individual amateurs from across the US – would never succeed. Brooks understand that only a team that worked together in a system of play, with the best conditioning, could beat the Soviets.

Consider the men Jesus selected for his disciples. It was nothing like an All-Star team that the religious leaders of the day would have selected! And think about the team God has arranged for you to work with – probably not an “All-Star” team, either. But when you’re taking back ground long-held by Satan, individual talent is insufficient. You need a team working in a system. And leaders often need to work out an "unconventional" strategy!

Coaches push people really hard -- but only when they want to get there

Herb Brooks was infamous for demanding the highest level of conditioning and skill from his players. He pushed and yelled and even jeered or mocked players to bring out their best. Why could he do that, without men volunteering to leave the team? Because the players had volunteered. They wanted to be there. They submitted themselves to intense training because they wanted to win.

The simple truth is that you can’t coach a person to a place he or she doesn’t want to be. But if they want to be there, you can push them and they’ll respond. Great coaches are usually tremendously demanding and unwilling to settle short. Leaders need to understand if they have someone’s engagement, and if they do, be unafraid to push them for better performance.

There are ways in which leaders cannot be your friend, and still get the job done

In the movie, right after the initial team has been selected, Herb Brooks tells them that they’ll be working harder than they’ve ever worked. He then tells them that if they need a friend, they should talk with the Assistant Coach.

The leadership lesson here is simple: You can’t be a person’s good buddy and then coach them beyond their comfort zone. I think you can be friends, but it’s a distant kind of friendship that is secondary to the role of leader and coach. The temptation to be someone’s friend often short-circuits a leader’s ability to develop an individual or a team. It’s significant to me that Jesus did not call his disciples friends until the very end of his time with them (John 15:15). If Jesus has done this sooner, He would not have been able to say to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” or rebuked the disciples as He did.

The second leadership lesson here is that you aren’t going to be able to be bosom-buddies with everyone equally on a team. Becoming too close a friend with some subordinates can create serious issues if you want a team to work together for a bold common purpose.

“The name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back”
It takes a while for the team members to stop thinking of themselves in the old way – by the school they played for. Herb Brooks puts them through serious pain before they realize that playing as a team for the United States is their new identity.

If you’re working in a leadership team, the name on the front of your jersey (“Jesus”) is more important than your church history, your pedigree, your experiences and credentials. It’s more important than the specific ministry area you serve in.

Taking back territory long-held by an enemy requires sacrifice
Between periods one player has a bruised leg. (These guys are really tough, so I’m sure it must have been quite painful if he opted out.) Herb Brooks yells at the guy and gets him worked up enough to get back in the game.

Leaders push not only in training, but in the big game. Satan has long-held territory which he will not yield easily. Sacrifices must be made. Men and women who don’t push beyond their comfort zones aren’t going to intimidate a well-entrenched enemy.

Inspiring words + Genuine heart expressing them = authentic empowering
Herb Brooks’ speech before their match with the Soviets is masterful, perhaps the best recorded “sports” motivational speech I’ve ever seen. He inspires them. He’s genuine. His love for the game and for them comes through.

Here’s the leadership lesson: if I had said those same words to that team, it would have had no effect. If James Earl Jones had boomed those same words, or a member of the US Olympic Hockey oversight team, it would have been pretty ho-hum. They might have listened politely, but the words would not have empowered them. Leaders must use words, but only words expressed from a genuine heart carry weight and resonate in ways that change others.

Leaders celebrate victories
Toward the end of the film there is a moving scene where Herb Brooks retreats to a back hallway and celebrates the remarkable victory over the Soviets. And he also cheers loudly for the team when they receive their gold medals. Their celebration inspired millions!

Leaders celebrate accomplishments. There are times to work and push and push harder. And there are times to celebrate. Don’t shortchange your team by failing to acknowledge wins and taking time to celebrate.

What do you think of these lessons? Are there others you took from this movie?

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