My son plays lacrosse. In fact, he’s played since he was about five years old. One tradition of lacrosse that runs from the five-year-olds to the highest level college and professional players is the handshake between teams after the game has ended. No matter the winners, losers, or any animosity between teams, the two squads line up and shake hands.
This isn’t just a lacrosse thing either, ironically, in hockey, a sport where fighting is tolerated among the professionals as “part of the game” (I would disagree with this sentiment since this practice is not tolerated at any other level of the sport), the hand-shaking tradition exists at all levels from kids to pros. And, while you may not know it, the tradition exists in baseball too, but only, as far as I know, with the kids in Little League.
Why do I bring this up? Well, the integrity and honor in respecting your opponent after a hard fought contest is probably lesson enough and I could stop there but I believe there is another lesson here having to do with leadership and the responsibility of setting an example.
The leadership lesson has to do with the ironies in baseball and hockey. In baseball, the opportunity to lead has been strangely abdicated. Why don’t the professionals promote and practice this simple behavior? This would be such an opportunity to show leadership and demonstrate the importance of civility and respect regardless of competition. The message here seems to be that visibly and intentionally communicating honor and respect are only necessary for kids, once you’re an adult, it’s just not so important.
Similarly, hockey sends a message, but possibly one that’s much worse than the baseball message. In hockey, at the professional level, it’s not unusual to see players fight, and although the practice has diminished, it still goes on. In any other sport, the players would be ejected, fined, and suspended, but in hockey, it’s as if a blind eye is turned since the penalties are largely slight in comparison to other sports. The message here seems to be, “All is fair in the heat of the battle, even violence.” In my view this is a damaging message to kids and adults alike and an example of poor leadership. The saving grace I guess is that they at least try to send a good message at the end of the game with a handshake, although, anything positive in the message can come across as very fake when part of the game was spent in a brawl resembling bullies on a playground.
Leadership is all about influence and whether we like it or not, we influence others by word and action whether we intend to or not. The messages we send in our words and actions influence our kids, spouses, partners, colleagues, customers, and innocent bystanders around us. We are all leading others whether we want to or not, and this is no more true than on playing fields and stages in front of large audiences.
Great leaders though are intentional about the messages they send and we all have the opportunity to lead others with an intentional example that demonstrates honor and respect, even in the midst of competition. How can you be more intentional about the example you are setting? Are you showing your kids, your spouse or partner, your colleagues and customers great leadership or are you abdicating that opportunity, or, worse yet, demonstrating a negative example? Take a lesson from the kids in lacrosse, baseball, and hockey, shake hands, show respect…lead.