Having THIS Doesn’t Make You a Good Leader


When I was in high school (in the early 1990s) one of my favorite things to do was to play soccer. The problem was, the older I got, the more expensive it was to play. You couldn’t just show up at the field and say, “Put me in coach!” You had to earn it and pay for it. My family lived in San Diego and we didn’t have a ton of money, but my parents supported my love for the sport regardless. It came time to try out for the U17 team—a premier team in San Diego called the San Diego Surf—as a goalkeeper.

There was just one problem … 13 other guys wanted to be the starting goalkeeper as well.

Tryouts were rough, long and exhausting. The worst part is that I had a crappy pair of goalkeeper gloves and all I could do was complain about them. These other guys had super nice, super pricey gloves and it was breaking down my confidence. Yet at the end of it all, I was chosen for a starting goalkeeper for the team, with the coveted #1 jersey. Despite my gloves and the money the other guys had, I had overcome. It was a great feeling … until the team manager explained that it would cost $1,200 to play for that season. He pulled my parents aside to have a conversation and I could tell it wasn’t going well. To my surprise, he was actually telling my parents that another family was willing to pay the tuition for me so I could play. We were very humbled, but I still had these old keeper gloves.

I was still complaining about the gloves. I was a teenager.

That’s when my dad looked me in the eye and said something I’ll never forget: “Bryan, the gloves don’t make the keeper. The keeper makes the gloves.”

It was one of the first lessons in leadership that I learned and it has stuck with me ever since. Simply because someone has a word after their name, it doesn’t mean they are a leader. A title doesn’t make you a leader—you make the title. You are a leader and you grow into that title. It doesn’t mean much to show up to a tryout with some fancy gloves if you cannot keep the ball out of the goal. If you cannot do this, you are not a goalkeeper. If you cannot lead in your organization and serve others, you are not a leader, regardless of what others call you. You make your position what it is. This is a life lesson that’s served me well, and keeps reminding me that I still have to earn it and not to judge people based on what title they’ve been given.

Ironically, as I proved my worth that season on the pitch, I started getting college scouts following me, and by the end of the season I had been given four or five pairs of new goalkeeper gloves from Umbro, Adidas, Reusch and more.

It was true—I earned the position, I owned the position and the gloves came following for free. My Dad was right.

As a leader, do you struggle with the issue of title versus influence?