Strengthening The Pack

By May 2, 2014 2 Comments

You’ve heard of “thinning the herd” before, I assume. What if we look at it just a little bit differently? This week we’re going to take a quote from my favorite U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln, and apply it to life and sports.

While doing research on leadership this week I came across this simple yet profound quote from Abraham Lincoln: “You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.” Just pause for a moment, reread the quote, and let it sink in. It’s simplistic yet powerful. One of the problems we have in society today is that we are too concerned with strengthening the weak and thereby forget about the strengthening the already strong. I don’t mean to sound brash when saying that, so let me explain.

First, we must stop lowering our standards. We often lower our standards to strengthen the weak. This happens throughout society. All the while we forget about the people in the middle and strengthening the ones at the top. You can’t improve the system or a culture by weakening the strong and it happens too often. It’s not intentional but it’s a byproduct of too much emphasis placed on strengthening the weak. In all facets of society—school, sports, and business, we need raised expectations. People will rise up to meet them or they will be replaced. It’s really that simple. Athletes will go wherever you set the bar. There are countless examples of underdog teams who overachieve and win because the leader set expectations high. We must stop doing tasks for our kids. We can’t help people by doing something for them which they can do for themselves.

Secondly, we need to play to our strengths more. It’s absolutely true that we must continually work on our weaknesses to turn them into strengths. However, too often in doing so we forget to make our strengths even stronger. It’s like having a post player who needs to improve their outside shot. So they’ll focus on it all summer and improve their shot but neglect to work on their post-game moves. Well, now they’ve made a weakness stronger but you’ve lost your best asset. We can’t forget about the students, athletes, and employees at the top. They need encouragement and inspiration just as much as those at the bottom. Too often leaders take for granted the internal motivation the ones at the top possess. We take excellence for granted and usually will give less coaching to them because they already ahead of their peers. I have good relationships with all my players but one of the strongest is with our best player. Coaches must have the great relationships with the best player because they are the heartbeat of the team. What would happen if we focused on making them even better while raising the expectations and standards of those in the middle or at the bottom? I think we’d be pleasantly surprised.

Finally, we must not be afraid to make cuts. This goes for the athletic and business world alike. Cutting dead weight is necessary and we must not feel guilty over it. Your team or business will never reach its full potential if you focus too much on bringing the bottom tier up. I am not saying to completely ignore the lower performing individuals. We must work to bring those individuals up and improve them, but we can’t lose focus of our end goal. Your team is not going to reach its full potential if you’re not focused on making the best players even better. There comes a time when the team is better off by letting individuals go. It’s the worst part of the job, every leader dreads it, but it is necessary.

If we truly want to improve our society we must heed the advice from President Lincoln. We must continually work to make our weaknesses strengths but we cannot ignore the strengths we already possess. Remember to give just as much love, attention, and support to the strong as we do the weak.

I realize that there will be differing views on this topic and I welcome a healthy discussion.

Thanks for reading, have a great week, and be an RGP today!



Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Stephen Cass says:

    Kyle…I enjoyed your comments a great deal. Much of what you said is very insightful and accurate. I had one question…what is the ‘end goal’? That would seem to be an important piece of defining an athletic mission and how much attention should be paid to encouraging the ‘weak’ versus building up the ‘strong’. At some schools and levels, healthy participation is the #1 goal, but that is not the case nor should it be at all schools.

  • kelmendorf says:

    Thank you Stephen, I appreciate it. The end goal is to do your absolute best to become the very best you can be. I know that sounds broad but when you really apply that to what you do great things will happen. I 100% agree that week should be encouraged and built up. The main point I wanted to make with this article is that we cannot forget about the one’s who are strong already. We must continue to push them. Once your stop and become satisfied, you’re no longer on the right path.

    You’re right, different schools will have different philosophies. That is why I think this sound principle will work in any environment. Hope that makes sense. Feel free to add your insight as well. Again, thanks for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts.

    Have a great one!