During a recent conversation with a colleague, a statement was made that brought back memories from high school. I thought that I would share this memory with you today.

You see, I grew up in Texas, where the sport of football (American version) is very popular. Back in Jr. High and High school we had a football coach that was pretty tough. One of my memories of this guy was that he always chewed tobacco. There was always a large wad of “chaw” in his mouth along with a spit cup that he carried around in his hand. His bottom lip was stained from the spit that continually dripped out of his mouth. Sorry….. back to the point.

Anyway, on days when he did not have a planned practice, we would have us run a “cross country”. A “cross country” was when the entire team would run across the back roads of our little town in East Texas. The problem was that, as on most teams, there were different levels of runners. We had guys (receivers) that could sprint the entire time. We had your average utility players that could easily pace the trip. And we also had the linesmen that were… well let’s just call it the way it is. They were the chubby ones. They were slow.

During our run, what usually happened was that our team would get spread out across back roads and eventually half of the team would finish while the other half was still out there laboring through the run.

One year our coach did something that I think pertains to leadership. He put the chubby guys in the front of the pack. He told us “no one could run faster than the fat kids.” At the time, this seemed like a brilliant leadership move on his part. Our team stayed together, and we finished at the same time. His goal was to build a closer team and keep us together so that no one felt left behind. However, while this might have accomplished his goal, this caused other problems.

You see the guys that used to feel left behind now felt that they were holding up all of the team. Now there was a different problem that damaged their self-esteem. And then there were those receivers that felt that they were being held back. Now, the receivers that used to be running at break neck speed and happy were angry because they were not able to run to their potential. Lastly, there were those utility players that would normally be in the middle, avoiding the pride of the receivers and also avoiding the frustration of the slower guys. Now they were stuck in the middle of disgruntled teammates. Their new surroundings caused stress.

The interesting part of this story is how a coach, while trying to keep a team together, created an environment that cultivated low self-esteem, anger, and stress. So how do we solve such a problem?

The answer is complicated and simple. It is all about relationships. One of the first things that a leader has to do is to build relationships. Those relationships need to be built within the team and also between the team and the leader. Team members need to care about each other. The receivers need to understand that if they want to run faster then they need to encourage and lighten the load of the chubby kids. The utility players need to see where they can resolve issues and reduce the stress. Without relationships, we were just a group of teenagers running on back roads.

I will end today by sharing a summary. Just because you are running together does not make you a team.

This week’s experiment comes as a question. Are you just running wth a bunch of guys, or are you on a team?