ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - November/December 2000

Issue Highlight — A Sign Of Hope
- Peter Block addresses the importance for corporations to work in the public interest as well as the interest of shareholders, building strong communities and promoting social equity.

 In This Issue...
Tackling Leadership
Generation X And The Baby Boomers At Work
Heeding The Call
A Sticky Situation: Creating Innovative Climates
Motivation Made Easy

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change
Heard on the Street

Return to NFC Index

Tackling Leadership
Mike Singletary on How to "Walk the Talk" on Your Own Playing Field

  Opposing players often stood in fear staring into the piercing eyes of Chicago Bears' middle linebacker Mike Singletary. Not only did his intensity and motivation affect the other team, those leadership qualities led the 1985 Bears to victory in Super Bowl XX. Both on and off the field, he did what came naturally-he led by example. His new challenge is working with organizations. Singletary believes that leaders must command respect and be consistent, patient, unbiased and faithful. Stating that he sees leadership fading, he wants to keep things simple. People should listen-he has an extensive resume and great first-hand experience.
   Singletary is widely known for his accomplishments on the football field. Regarded as one of the greatest middle linebackers ever to play the game, Singletary was selected to 10 consecutive Pro Bowls and was twice named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. His football achievements were capped in 1998 when he was voted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Beyond the list of individual honors, he captained the Bears through most of his career. After retiring, he took his leadership style to the business world, speaking on motivation, leadership, diversity and organizational change. In his presentations, he shares proven methods for tackling obstacles that face businesses today. With two books on the shelves, "Team of Eagles" and "Daddy's Home at Last," Singletary's next goal is to launch a leadership institute.

  In a recent interview with AQP's Executive Director Kevin McManus, Singletary discusses how he developed his leadership style, whom he regards as great leaders in his life and what skills are necessary to be effective in the future.

NFC: Which conference are you attending right now?

Singletary: The Ford Conference. I'm looking at some of the training they are doing. One of the things I am doing in the next few months is launching a leadership institute. I am also teaching and training in two-and-a-half day seminars. I am very excited about that and just trying to make sure we have a cutting-edge program when we step out there.

NFC: There are so many other people trying to address the leadership issue. What are you going to do differently, or what are you going to offer, that is different than what's already out there?

Singletary: First and foremost is my experience being a leader, then having the opportunity to be around so many leaders and being part of an organization where many people are doing leadership training. Also, there is a lot of teaching going on but I don't really see a lot of the leadership skills being practiced by the people after they leave. I want to attack the leadership issues and really challenge the mentality of people. I don't want people to come to our program and say, "Oh yeah, that's really good, I like that." I want them to say, "It's time for me to do that."

NFC: You were known for your intensity when you were playing football. Would you say that teaching people how to ignite that same kind of intensity within themselves is something that is going to be part of your leadership offerings?

Singletary: I want people to be aware that they have a choice to do things differently than they have been doing, and then help them create a vision for their lives and make sure that they stay on course. A lot of times people go through the motions and don't realize that they really can change. If they want another job, if they want a raise or if they want to be a better parent, they can do it. It is not going to be easy. It takes self-reflection and brutal honesty about who they are and where they are. Then it comes down to making decisions about what to do once they know this.

NFC: I think in your case you are a very different person than the person portrayed as the crazy middle linebacker. Somehow when you go into a leadership role, you know how to frame your mind or set yourself up to be a good leader. We want to know how you make sure you fulfill your obligations.

Singletary: My partner and I were talking about some of the things we consider when we think of a leader. One of the first things that comes to my mind is the most difficult-leading by example. I have been very fortunate to have a few leaders that were really good, but the consistency of being the example is something I feel is lacking.

NFC: Did you feel that Grant Teaff was a pretty good leader?

Singletary: Great leader.

NFC: What did he do at Baylor that made him a great leader in your mind?

Singletary: He would be the example that I was talking about in being consistent and "walking that talk." The other thing is allowing us as players, to have ownership. I don't really think leaders can call themselves leaders until their fear is gone, in terms of who is going to get the credit. There are a lot of leaders that are not able to teach and free others to be who they are and do their own style.

NFC: What were the differences between your college coach and Mr. Ditka, your pro coach?

Singletary: Consistency was one of the fundamental differences. Coach Ditka definitely had the fire, and so did Grant Teaff, but when we won the conference, Coach Teaff never changed. But after we won the Superbowl Coach Ditka definitely changed and he realizes that. That was something we talked about. It hurt the team, it hurt him and it hurt our chances of moving forward. That wasn't the only thing, but that was a big thing.

NFC: Were you the official defensive leader when you first joined the Bears?

Singletary: No, that wasn't until my second year.

NFC: Were you assigned the role of defensive captain, or is it something you earned?

Singletary: I think it is something that I became.

NFC: Why didn't Dan Hampton become the defensive leader instead?

Singletary: He didn't want to be. He realized the inconsistency in himself. Dan could be very critical. He was the kind of guy who couldn't find a nice way of saying you weren't doing your job. You can't be a leader and be like that. He really didn't have the patience to be a student in terms of personality and to really look at being a leader. I think that he was very honest and said, "I don't want to be a leader."

NFC: Suppose you have someone in an organization that actually is a leader by title. They are a supervisor or manager, but they have that same attitude. How do you fix that? Can you let them keep doing their job, or can you develop that in them? What do you do?

Singletary: There are several things that have to be done. If they have the desire to be a leader and just don't have the skills, then you teach them how to be a leader. If they don't have the desire, and they really don't want to be a leader, then you have to bring someone alongside them that can lead.

NFC: After you left football, you lost that formal leadership role. What did you move into next in terms of formal leadership?

Singletary: I continued to grow as a learner in the field of leadership and teamwork, as I continued to speak to organizations about various subjects such as teamwork, leadership, change and diversity. I became a tremendous student of continued learning and a facilitator in terms of trying to help organizations, as well as people in prisons, figure out where they are going. I have coached them and told them that they can make it and make a difference. That is what I have done.

NFC: Why didn't you stay in football and go into coaching?

Singletary: Well, once again, when you talk about leadership it is the consistency, the example. The thing I couldn't get past was the time that everyone said it took to coach. That doesn't make sense to me.

NFC: Because it ruptured the balance between family and work?

Singletary: Yes.

NFC: You mentioned diversity. How do you see diversity and leadership play together?

Singletary: I don't like the word diversity. I look at it as 'higher-level teamwork.' A leader is a person who has the ability to communicate across all lines. They are unbiased in terms of who they deal with and why they deal with them. A true leader is a person that is looking at doing things right-making the right decision regardless of anything else. You don't have to lecture or talk to them about it. They have a conscience of what the right thing to do is, and they do it. That eliminates all of the other stuff, like who's best for the job, who I like to talk to or who I like to associate with.

NFC: Which top three leadership models do you try to learn from the most?

Singletary: The first would be my mother. The second would be my high school coach. The third would be Grant Teaff.

NFC: We have already talked about Coach Teaff in terms of him setting an example and being consistent. What about your mother? What were some of her key leadership qualities?

Singletary: I think it was her faithfulness and her prayers. My mother was a woman of prayer. Leaders sometimes frustrate themselves by feeling like they have to know everything. There were a lot of things she didn't know. She only went to school through the eighth grade and wasn't the greatest student in the world. For those things she didn't know, she prayed about. And she had to have a hunch and a gut feeling and faith to move forward. She had her faith where it needed to be. And because she had her faith there, she didn't lead out of fear, ignorance or emotion. She led on what she knew. That's why I respect her leadership so much.

NFC: How about your high school coach?

Singletary: My high school coach was a fundamentalist. He kept it simple. If you did what you had to do, you were all right with him. If you didn't do what you had to do, you had a problem. He made you understand what you did wrong and why you needed to get it right and how to do it right. He talked about life. To me the true leaders are bold, whether they are football coaches, military men or women, whatever they do, they also talk about life and how to live life. What is common sense? What is having courage? What is standing alone? He was all of that to me.

NFC: What is the main question you get asked about leadership?

Singletary: How do you become a leader?

NFC: What do you tell them?

I ask, "Who are the people in your life that you respect?" I don't think the goal is to become a leader. The goal is to become someone that is respected. That is the bottom line of what a leader is-someone whom you respect. You may not agree all of the time, you may not like them, but you respect them because it is difficult being a leader.

NFC: If we look at everything going on in the world today, in terms of technological changes, where do you see leadership heading? Do you see it changing or requiring different skills?

Singletary: I see leadership fading. Particularly in our young people; the next set of leaders. I was talking with my wife about it the other day. You can't go to a game and see kids playing without a referee. Everything has to be right. We have all of these rules and kids are not allowed to think anymore. Either they are in front of a television or they are playing a game that is refereed. When I was growing up, you made your own rules and decided who was going to be on the team. You decided what made the teams fair. I think that is where creativity, leadership and innovation came from. Now everything is so structured. Kids don't have time to sit down and reflect, "How would I do this differently?" Then you look at the other issue of single parenting. That makes it very difficult. They are learning from one model. That model, oftentimes, really has to work. And with some of the things that are decreasing in our schools, whether it is workshop or art class that is being extracted from the schools because of funding, kids can't learn artistically. So, as a country, I think we have always had a lot of leadership, but I see that really fading. I think that we are redefining what leadership is in the new millennium. And that's scary.

NFC: What do you think we need to do to fix that?

Singletary: I think we need to go back and visit our past and look at what those leaders were made of, look at what we liked about them and look at what we didn't like. But look at what we have really valued about them. We need to look at some of those things that we have to do now and begin to introduce some of those things to our young people. Maybe as a country, setting up some kind of standards in terms of students taking courses in leadership and challenge them.

NFC: When you look at some of the people trying to be leaders in this world today, are there some that really do stand out as good leaders?

Singletary: If you had asked me that question a couple of years ago, I had a lot of people. Unfortunately, I've gotten to know some of them and studied some of them a little bit closer and I am not excited about what I am seeing. There are still some out there, but right now I am very concerned about the leadership of our country. Starting at a point now where it doesn't take a whole lot to really get off track. There are so many intangibles of leadership and so many ways of being unethical and getting off track. It is difficult right now to look at someone and say, "Wow, that's a leader." Because now I am just telling my kids, "Don't ever say that you'd like to be like this person because you don't go home with them. You don't really know them that well." And that is the thing that I have to remember. So, how close can you get to a leader? How close can you get to someone? I guess that's when you begin to try and define "Wow, I really like that person," or "That person is a leader." Maybe I haven't gotten that close to someone in the past few years.

NFC: The tagline for our event is "Maximizing the Leadership Potential in Everyone." What do you think a leader needs to do to try to bring everybody up in terms of their level of leadership?

Singletary: Look at the needs of people. It is so easy to say, "O.K., this is what we are going to do. We can give this person leadership." You can't give a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. I think in order to be a really effective leader, you have to know whom it is that you are trying to lead. You have to know who they are and what they need. Whether it is in your family, whether it's in an organization; it really takes time to study people and say, "O.K., in order for this person to be a leader that can make decisions, ethical decisions, good decisions, decisions based on integrity, they need this." If I have five people and I try to give them all the same thing, I have a problem. Somebody is going to miss it. Somebody already has it. Somebody doesn't have a clue. So I just really need to be able to be a student of my people.

NFC: If you wanted to close this article with a message regarding leadership, what would it be?

Singletary: Make sure that you are a person worthy of respect. Make sure you are worthy of someone following you.

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