“Make People Better.”

Every day for the past week, I’ve re-traced this phrase on the back of my left hand.

I do this every so often, when a certain idea or principle compels me. It’s an active reminder.

In the past I’ve written things like:

“Dive Deep.”

“Be Present.”


Leaders have an endlessly important responsibility to move groups of people forward. Other than their skills and knowledge that they gain through experience, leaders are no different than followers. We all start the same. Some people end up leading groups of followers, and most people end up in groups following leaders.

Neither one is better than the other – we need both to move forward.

This week, I’ve adopted “Make People Better” as an overarching leadership principle. It encompasses the complex responsibilities of a leader in three words.

Leadership is not about being friendly. It’s not about being liked or exerting power or authority. It’s not about being feared. It’s not about being worshipped. In fact, it’s not about the leader at all.

Leaders exist to move people forward. To make the people who follow them better.

My lacrosse coach in high school was an excellent leader. He was nice to us sometimes, but most of the time he was pretty hard on us. We respected him to no end. We didn’t see it as harsh or mean, because he made it abundantly clear that he was going to make us better at all costs.

Sometimes this meant he had to be an asshole to get a point across. Sometimes this meant he praised us publicly for a good performance.

To him, it was ONLY about making us better. That meant conditioning us. That meant calling us out when we screwed up.

It meant being honest with us.

I played attack, so I specialized in offense. Defenders are equipped with longpoles to make it easier to play defense on us. Whenever there was a mismatch and an attack ended up with a shortpole playing defense on him, this was a prime 1 on 1 opportunity.

We called this specific play “A”. The instigator would yell out “A”, and everyone on offense would run away from the goal, clearing space for the attack to take advantage of the 1 on 1 opportunity.

One time early on in the season, I had a shortpole playing defense on me. Despite the entire team yelling at me from the sidelines, I didn’t recognize the opportunity to run “A”. So, my coach pulled me off the field and made me sit on the sidelines for 2 quarters. He told me why, and said he wants someone in who will recognize scoring opportunities.

I was pissed. I wanted to play! I knew I could help the team out by being on the field.

It must have been hard for him t deliberately call out a 15 year old and watch his feelings get hurt. But it wasn’t about my feelings. It was about making me better.

You better believe I never missed an opportunity to run “A” for the rest of the season.

Being a leader requires placing the value of honesty and improvement above that of the amicability of the relationship. Respect is earned through honesty.