Saturday, November 17, 2007

Influential People

When I started this blog I thought of adding a sequence of posts highlighting influential people in my life. Well, nearly two years have passed and I haven't started it yet. Its about time! This is the first post in a sequence on this topic.

The topic of most influential is a very difficult proposition as different people have played very different roles at different points in my life. It is also hard to nominate anyone as more influential than your parents as they had near exclusive influence during those most impressionable child development years. Karyn, my wife, has notably had a very significant and positive influence through our years of daily co-dependence. Excluding these relationships, I would like to nominate the "most influential" to an individual who I respect very deeply, who played a critical role in my life at a critical point of time. That individual was my high school football coach - Coach Lutero.

I first need to qualify this article by saying that I was not the best football player. In fact, I was at best average among all of the players on the team. Regardless, Coach Lutero demonstrated true leadership, caring, and personal commitment to myself as well as many others, football players and non-players alike.

What impresses me most about Coach Lutero is that he not only held a position of leadership, but demonstrated it through his actions on a daily basis. The world could use a few more leaders like him. I'll provide you a few specific examples of this leadership.

The most important lesson I learned from Coach Lutero was about giving people a chance. I remember a new kid moved into town. He had been in trouble in the past and came from a broken family. His path through school was not destined for success. This kid wasn't a football player, but coach mentored him regardless. He gave him a position helping with the team. And he arranged for me to give him a ride home after practice and events. This of course, was not something I was overly excited about, as he wasn't "cool". Coach then mentored me on the importance of giving people a chance, and that is what I did. I wish this story had a happy ending for the kid, but it doesn't. After the time invested by the coach and a number of additional chances, the kid drifted away. What didn't drift away was the lesson for me. I was very impressed about Coach's willingness to invest the time in an individual which provided little benefit back to him, other than knowing that he made a difference.

Coach was very connected within our high school. I went to a school with about 350 students, so it wasn't too difficult to do so. I was still amazed about how much he knew about what went on there (I am sure that his daughters weren't overly impressed by this!). Whenever I would get into trouble, which on occasion occurred, Coach would take me aside and have a discussion about it. He wouldn't tell me that I was wrong, but instead asked me to compare my actions against my values and commitments. He didn't have to invest this time, but it definitely limited the trouble that I got into. I know that I wasn't the only person who received this mentoring.

Coach also tutored individuals in their studies. Before school or lunchtime, it didn't matter. He was constantly challenging people to do more, to learn more, and to apply themselves more. I remember he kept pushing me to apply to the best universities in the country. Having no idea what I wanted to do, I ignored his input and went to a local school. I remember once when I was home on break he asked how school was going. After informing him that I was having no difficulties, he interrupted me and asked why then I was wasting my time there. He encouraged me to once again transfer to a more difficult school. This time I listened and made the change that had the single most profound positive impact on the direction of my life.

I wish I had been more mature to receive these lessons at the time. I was not. But most importantly, they stuck with me since then. I think and act on them often. I owe a great deal to Coach Lutero as I expect many others do as well.

The last time I saw Coach was at my fathers funeral 15 years ago. It meant a great deal to me that he came. I think it is about time that I get back in touch with him.

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