I ran on the cross-country team in high school. I did it originally because it was an easy way to get credits for graduation. At practice we ran off campus a lot and I had some friends who would get picked up, they would get ice cream or food then, they would get dropped off and run the last quarter mile back to school. I naturally thought this was amazing. After about a week of being on the team and running with the slackers at practice we had our first meet.
When the gun went off for the race, something happened in my head. I was like a horse chomping at the bit to catch every person who was in front of me. After that race, my coach would never let me go back to the slacker group again. I ended up coming in 8th place for my school and 5th place for the race. I steadily took running more seriously and began being a contender in the races. That was my junior year.
During my senior year, I took running a lot more seriously and I was consistently in the top 5 of our team. Our team had a group of about 10 runners who got really close. There were only three seniors on the team and we were advancing well in our brackets. We even got to CIF prelims, but we were a few minutes shy of advancing to the next rounds of CIF. Although we won nothing it was great to be a part of a team where individual performance mattered but in the end it was a team effort. It has been ten years since then but I look back at those days remembering the joy of being on that team.
So today I was sitting in my tax-guys office and he showed me a picture. The picture was of that team that went to CIF. A much skinnier version of me was in that picture. He said, “do you know that the cross-country team has been major contenders for CIF almost every single year since you graduated?” I didn’t know that. He said that whenever the coach talks about why his team is so successful he points back to this group of ten outrageously committed guys who paved the way for the team to be where they are at now.
Needless to say, at my tax appointment today I was floored. I didn’t realize that what I had done was a part of something bigger. I always just thought that I ran for me. It turns out I was wrong. I ran quickly to motivate the people behind me to run fast, and they motivated the group behind them to train even harder and run very fast. We were part of a team that created a winning culture.
I heard someone say one time, “why follow and look at someone’s back when you can lead and see so much more.” I think this is a massively flawed way of looking at leadership. If you are leading someone, and they only see your back, you are keeping them in the dark. I think the proper posture for leadership is allowing your followers to stand on your shoulders and see further than you.
In a letter to a friend, Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” I love this quote because it reminds me that each one of us is a giant in our own way. People are standing on our shoulders peering into the distance. But we are only in that posture because of the giants who have influenced us.
So today, who are the giants who have paved your way? Who are you allowing to stand on your shoulders to see even greater things?