“I didn't want to be a coach because I see how hard and difficult it is. But he saw something in me that I didn't see in myself. He gave me my first opportunity, and I'm very thankful to Doc, and I'll always love him. He'll always be my mentor.”
This is a quote from Tyronn Lue's press conference after winning Game 7 and an NBA championship - Cleveland’s first sports championship in 52 years.
Winning always changes the narrative, but the reality is, when Ty Lue first took over as head coach for the Cavaliers, many in the sports world disapproved. Lue, a first-year head coach best known for being stepped over by Allen Iverson in the 2001 NBA Finals, was now inheriting the most pressure-filled job in the NBA halfway through the season. There was no grace period. It was win now or be labeled as the inexperienced coach that Cleveland was foolish enough to take a chance on. We now know that Lue silenced the doubters and led the Cavs to an improbable comeback in the Finals.
Given all that, it's no surprise Lue buckled under the overwhelming thrill of it all and wept on the sideline as the buzzer sounded. It’s an amazing story, but one that may never have happened if not for the discerning eye of Doc Rivers, coach of the Los Angeles Clippers. What Ty Lue was essentially saying in his postgame presser was “Doc…you da' real MVP!”
So often we associate great leadership with qualities like strength, dominance, decisiveness, confidence, risk-taking, and delegation. These are indisputable marks of a great leader. However, one of the most powerful yet overlooked qualities is the ability to see unfulfilled greatness in others.
You Call It Out...They Live It Out
The question becomes, what did Doc see in Lue? How did he see what was not there from the outward perspective? According to a USA Today piece by Jeff Zillgitt, Rivers said, “I just thought he was a natural leader. He has this ability to connect. I love his IQ. I just thought he had the intangibles. He had the ability to tell people what they don’t want to hear. I thought, ‘This kid could be a really good coach someday.’”
When Rivers proposed the coaching idea, Lue believed he had the wrong guy. “He thought it was silly,” Rivers said. “There’s no way I’ll coach” Ty thought.
“You’ll be a coach. You know it; you’re smart about it, and you’ll coach,” Rivers told him, “At some point after you retire, give me a call. I’ll have a job for you.”
What’s so great is how sure Rivers was about Lue’s coaching abilities. And it was his unwavering confidence in Lue that gave Lue the courage to pursue it in his post playing career.
Now, it's one thing to recognize leadership qualities out in the game of life, but let’s face it: most leaders don't come in the package of an NBA veteran with an arsenal of skills and abilities like Ty Lue. So the question becomes, how do we respond to our fellow man when we can’t see the recognizable tools or even the desire to see greatness in themselves? How easy it is to judge by outward appearance? Like with Rivers and Lue, sometimes our belief in someone has to EXCEED the belief they exhibit in themselves. Sometimes we have to literally deny a man’s self-assessment when it contradicts the true potential that has been revealed in them.
The beautiful thing about God’s plan is that He creates every man - regardless of his status or occupation - to be great. This isn't some generality. No, every man has a specific purpose and call to greatness. But who will see it in them? Who will say, “Yes” when they’re saying, “No?”
Many of our young minority men deny their calling, not by any fault of their own, but simply due to the statistics of a society that doom them to be marginalized and labeled as underachievers. Often times it is society that joins along in the chorus of one’s own lack of self-value. And we can all fail to become great leaders every time we judge someone by their outward appearances - the uneducated, the unsophisticated, the overweight, the disabled, the poor and homeless. We miss the mark to be great when we neglect to look at someone created in God’s image and don't see an eternal purpose and impact that only they can offer!
In order to live it out...someone has to call it out!
The Greatest Leader of All Time
Doc Rivers is a great leader on the court, and by all accounts, a great man off the court. But there is no question in my mind that when it comes to the game of life, no one embodies the spirit of leadership better than the man Jesus Christ. Let’s key in on one of the most powerful examples of this found in the Bible.
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have returned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day until you deny three times that you know me.” – Luke 22:31-34
The backdrop to this passage centers on Peter, a disciple of Christ, denying Jesus three times after Jesus was taken into Roman custody and condemned to death. To paraphrase, Jesus tells Peter that he’s gonna blow it: “Peter you’re gonna’ fall flat on your face when I need you the most. But it’s all good. I already got you.” But Peter can’t accept this truth, vehemently denying Jesus’ words. Thankfully our acceptance or denial doesn’t make The Word any less true.
Later in the same chapter, Peter denied Christ as strongly as he claimed to be down. And because of this 180 degree turn, Peter's self-confidence and belief in his own calling was shot. He felt useless, defeated. The last thing he saw in himself was greatness.
This is where the leadership of Christ is revealed in ways we’ve never seen apart from him. Jesus didn’t lay claim while Peter was displaying greatness. He saw Peter's moment of failure before it happened and foretold Peter of what was to come. And what Jesus was saying to Peter beforehand was, “Peter, I don't care how much faith you’ve lost in yourself. I don't care what your self-assessment is. I have prayed for you! And because I've prayed for you, you WILL recover. You WILL strengthen others. And you WILL be great!”
Jesus literally prayed Peter through to greatness! How amazing is that? If you call Jesus Lord, this is your call to leadership, too. We are called to first, embrace the greatness Jesus speaks over us, then the greatness He is speaking over and praying into others. Speak it…Pray it…See it! This is our call as leaders!
What do you see - your reality or God’s reality? Like Rivers saw in Lue, we have to glimpse greatness in others where it may not yet exist (to see the unseen). And beyond that, like Jesus saw in Peter, we should strive to see eternal greatness in others - for this life and the one to come. Stop “calling into existence” that new house or car, and start calling into existence the greatness God created for those around you. Hey, you’re looking a lot more like Jesus already!
As we walk amongst folks today, I challenge you to overlook the contradictions. Maybe, like Ty Lue, those contradictions are the self-doubts and fears of someone who’s already displayed great leadership qualities, but perhaps those contradictions are more daunting for them to conquer. They may struggle with depression, mental illness, past mistakes, incarceration, or homelessness. It may just be a young Black man in America with all the statistics working against him. Look beyond it ALL and CHOOSE to see the Greatness that Jesus has declared over them!
“God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing.” – Romans 4:16-17 NLT
Faith… when exercised, brings the unseen into plain view, and by which the impossible things are made possible. – E.A. Kilbourne
Cliff Means is the Vice President of The K.I.N.G. Movement NYC Chapter and an alumni of Summit International School of Ministry. He has a passion to help men reach their God given potential through writing, speaking, and servant leadership. Cliff is a Detroit native and currently resides in Queens, New York. Follow Cliff on SyngergyScape or Twitter @cliffmeans