Leadership and Institutional Capital

The recent conversation initiated by Bill Henderson on building institutional capital among law faculties still has me thinking.  My own contribution is here; Jeff Lipshaw captures the relevant posts here.  In particular, I’m pondering Jeff’s point about the role of “inspired and inspiring leadership.”  What does that mean?  At the least, it must mean leadership by and through example; in other words, if I can’t define leadership, I can point to leaders and say, “that’s what I’m talking about.” 

A challenge, however, is to find this in your own personal experience, rather than in history or politics more broadly.  Can you identify someone in your own life — teacher, mentor, coach, friend, family member, colleague — whose leadership generated institutional or firm-specific esprit?  And what was it about that person that produced that impact? 

I’ll go first.

I played competitive soccer until I finished high school.  I played on horrible teams and magnificent teams; for coaches I had tactical masters, experienced former professionals, veterans of soccer on several continents.  The best pure leader of the bunch, however, was Mark Speckman, who was my coach during my junior year of high school.

Mark was only about five years older than we were, and he was just starting his coaching career.  He knew next to nothing about soccer.  He had been a football player in college, earning national recognition as a linebacker at Azusa Pacific in the old NAIA.  He was hanging around our school helping with the football team, when he was asked to take the reins of the soccer program for a year. 

I should mention at this point that Mark Speckman was born without hands.

So picture a non-soccer playing linebacker, without hands, coaching a bunch of kids whose job it was to put a ball in the back of a net — without using their hands.  He didn’t teach strategy, or tactics, or skills; he couldn’t.  He was smart and a quick study, and he put 11 men on the field in mostly the right places.  We did the rest.  But at every practice and at every game, he was on fire.  En fuego.  With his energy and enthusiasm for us and for the cause, and partly simply by his own history and presence, Mark Speckman was a one-man force of nature  One-to-one, in the group, whatever it took, Mark Speckman goaded us, cheered us, and validated us loudly and publicly whenever we made great plays and sometimes when we were merely OK but he and we all knew that better was there for the taking, with more effort.  His was always the loudest, most positive, and most relentless voice on the sideline.  No hands for him; no hands for us.

I honestly don’t remember our record, though we did pretty well.  We were competing against schools that were five and ten times our size.  Occasionally there was a college coach lurking here or there, but to my knowledge none of us went on to college careers (and a number of our opponents did).  What I do remember, however, is that just about to a person, we would run through walls for Mark, and for each other.  I doubt that my own skill level improved that year, and I won a state championship with a club the following year.  But that year with Mark is the team I remember most.

Mark Speckman has had quite the successful career since then, as a football coach.

Mark Speckman wasn’t my best coach.  But he was my best leader.  Who was yours?