Special guest blog written by NFL Linebacker and Lead ‘Em Up Ambassador Lorenzo Alexander
Throughout my athletic career, leadership has always been an important aspect of every team I’ve ever been on, starting at around eleven or twelve years of age. Around that time is when sports became more competitive and certain guys started being identified as leaders. In most cases, the most popular or the best players on the team would seem to find themselves as Captains, and once I made it to the NFL, it was the highest paid players. And from the outside looking in, it makes sense why the media, fans, parents or young athletes would naturally assume money, popularity or talent are what qualifies leadership. In many cases, this appears to be true, especially when I think of players like Aaron Rodgers, London Fletcher and Larry Fitzgerald. These men are all future Hall of Famers, are household names and have had significant contracts throughout their careers, but based on my experiences and observations, I can say with confidence that the money, production and popularity are the fruits of their consistent labor built on identity, character and relationships.
So how is leadership developed and cultivated? Over the years, like me, you may have heard phrases like, “lead by example,” or “the cream rises to the crop,” or my favorite, “if we want to be a good team this year we need guys to step up and lead the team.” It all sounds good, but as young student-athletes, or maybe even as a professional, what does this mean? And I would tell you that it means consistently showing up with energy and a great attitude, and relentlessly working to help yourself and teammates improve. And like anything, this comes easier to some people but doesn’t mean that you cannot develop into a great leader over time, but it all starts with your identity.
Who are you? Do you know? Our identity is the most critical piece in becoming a leader and also the most delicate because we find our identity in our parents, friends and society, and depending on who those people are, and what you’ve been exposed to, it can be great but at the same time, it can also be very dangerous. I grew up in a single parent household and my mother did a fantastic job raising me; I even had men like my uncle Steve provide an example of what a man should be, however he did not live in the house so I filled the gaps with pop culture and what my friends thought a man should be. Unfortunately, this lead me down a dangerous path of drinking and unhealthy relationships with women. Now what does this have to do with being a leader?
Well, who I became off the field directly impacted who I was on the field. The way I was living prevented me from reaching my full potential. In addition, my friends and society changed over the years, which meant I was changing, too. And who wants to follow someone when one day they are being led in one direction only to be led in another direction the next day? No one! It wasn’t until I established my foundation on God that I was able to start to approach my potential. Think about it: if you ever want to know why something is created, you go to the inventor and ask, right? Made sense to me and I quickly discovered that God is the beginning and the end, hasn’t changed and won’t change, and has a plan for my life. And the best part of it is that God is living within me in the form of the Spirit, and “He didn’t’ give us a Spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). And as I peeled back the onion and discovered who I really was, God began to fill the gaps in my life, and I naturally stopped doing things that didn’t align with my identity.
What we do speaks louder than what we say, which is another way of saying, “lead by example.” We each want to be the one who gets acknowledged as setting the great example, but we oftentimes fall short. Sometimes our ignorance is the cause, but mostly it is not knowing who we are that leads to a downfall; however, when we know that we have the Spirit of God residing within us, there are certain fruits or attributes we will, and should, work towards exemplifying everyday. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Ephesians 5-22-23). These attributes need to make up our character because they are going to allow us to be the best version of ourselves. Developing our character is critical because it will be the essence of how we respond to people, hardships and our daily goals. And through our experiences, there should be a growth and solidifying process of who we are, which produces confidence. The confidence you develop will allow you to stand firm and not be swayed on what you believe because you understand the standard by which you should live. Whether it is in the joy you display at work or practice everyday, or in the self control you demonstrate by staying calm and level-headed when someone offends you, or the faithfulness you give to your wife or significant other, the key is being consistent and standing strong because people are always watching, especially as you emerge as a leader.
Lastly, every good leader I’ve been around values people and the relationships they develop. The people we have in our lives are important mainly for two reasons. The first is that life is too hard to do by ourselves, and we need good people around us for support. My friendship with one of my best friends, Kedric Golston was formed out of service. During my first offseason in Washington, he needed to do some yard work and I offered to help him. After that experience we have formed an everlasting bond where we have become more like family than friends. But relationships need to go deeper and help keep us accountable as well. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17) I’ve had the pleasure of having people who I’ve allowed to speak in my life and make me a better man. Even as a successful NFL player, husband and father, I still need help growing. The second reason why relationships are important is because as we grow and become better, it’s important to pass along that wisdom. Being able to pour into another person as a mentor is probably the most meaningful thing you can do in your life. Our ability and experiences weren’t meant just for us, but to be shared with others, to make them better and ultimately lead them to Christ. If it weren’t for men like Antwaan Randle El, James Thrash and Renaldo Wynn doing this very thing, I would still be lost and unsure of who I am.
And that is why leadership is so critical. It provides you the opportunity to impact someone’s life that can significantly impact not only the immediate person, but generations to come. I have mentioned a few people who have led me, and because of them I’ve been able to create a legacy through my family and foundation that will continue past my days on this earth. And the best part is that everyone has access to becoming a great leader regardless of your background, parents, friends and society because the foundation is available through the Father.
Have fun and Lead ‘Em Up – Lorenzo
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