Bro. Carl Tershak was my high school algebra teacher. He was also my basketball coach. Looking back I realize, like many teachers and coaches, he taught me a great deal. Early on he taught me the power of diversion.
Bro. Carl would come into class, books and lesson plan in hand. Before he could get started my hand would dart up with a question. Was it about algebra? No. It was about basketball. I knew he loved the sport and he loved coaching it. It was something close to his heart and most importantly, he loved talking about it. Sometimes the question was about a new strategy or the last game. It didn’t really matter. Bro. Carl was off for 30 minutes or so—and that meant no algebra.
That all ended one day when he came into class, slammed his book down on the desk and barked out to me, “You! Back of the room! And I don’t want to hear a word out of you.” Forty Five minutes later he breathed a sigh and confessed, “It was the only way I knew to keep you from distracting me and getting us all off topic.”
Leadership Lessons Learned: People may try to divert your attention and redirect you. Don’t let them! Stay focused. Keep your group focused. Encourage questions, but not every question needs to be answered immediately. Prioritize!
I may be the worst basketball team player ever from my high school! I often tell people that I could have worn my clothes under the warm-ups—I rarely went in. I wasn’t a good dribbler or shooter. But, I wanted to be and I wanted to be on the team. Bro. Carl saw that and encouraged me. He had some of the good players spend time with me teaching, coaching and encouraging me. And then the impossible happened—I made the team. Looking back, I know I wasn’t good enough, but Bro. Carl saw and recognized my desire and determination. He didn’t expect any less from me and at the same time was realistic. He treated me like any of the other players. He was honest about my play time. He always made me feel supported and part of the team.
Leadership Lessons Learned: Recognize the passion in people. Fan their dreams. Set high expectations and do what you can to support them. Their loyalty and appreciation will last a lifetime.
My most vivid memory of Algebra class is this rule: What you do to one side of the equation you need to do to the other side of the equation. That is what the equal sign means. When you don’t your answer is wrong.
We all have had the moment of terror when you are asked up to the blackboard (I guess now days, it is a white board) and asked to solve the problem. I can still hear Bro. Carl’s voice intervening, “if you add five to one side, what do you need to do to the other side?” This principle of math has even a deeper meaning when applied to life in general.
Leadership Lessons Learned: Want people to listen to you? Listen to them! Want to influence others? Be open to influence yourself. Relationships shouldn’t be one-sided. In the most effective relationships, both sides are affected and changed.
One Step at a Time
After a test or a homework assignment, Bro. Carl would put the most common mistakes up on the board and go over each problem. He would always tell us to save our work, so we could review it and find where we went wrong. Together we would go over the the problems and identify the errors made. The most common feedback: Follow the rules. Take it one step at a time. This will make it easier to get a correct answer first time around and if not, it will make it easier to find where you made your mistake.”
Leadership Lessons Learned: Review your work. Look at the data. Take it one step at a time. Find a process that works for you and your people and implement it with fidelity. Learn from your mistakes.
Protect your People
After school there was always a choose-up game, often with students and staff playing side by side. It was a great way of expanding our perceptions of others outside the roles of student/teacher. There was one teacher that often joined us—we will call him Jim. Jim was a big guy and not always a happy person. During these games he often ran rough shod over us—getting a little more physical than necessary, especially since his opponents were high school students. Bro. Carl often didn’t play, but watched these games. One day, after a particularly rough play by the other teacher, he joined the game. Bro. Carl, a big man himself, enthusiastically protected his teammates from Jim. After several plays of such protection, Jim’s behavior changed. From that point on, the games became more enjoyable for all of us.
Leadership Lessons Learned: Work on expanding your view and understanding of others. Look past their roles and learn more about them. Protect your people! That doesn’t mean physically. It means protect them with your guidance, empower them with your actions and advocate for them with your influence.
There are lessons to be learned from our daily interactions with others. Be open to recognize them and learn from them. Leaders are often focused on influencing others. Real leader are open to being influenced by others. That is how we all grow.