For the last ten years, I’ve been lucky enough to play basketball on Sundays with the ultimate servant leader. He makes everyone around him better with his encouragement, intensity, constructive feedback and love for the game. He’s made a huge impact on my life as a teammate, friend and mentor. And by the way… he also happens to be the NBA’s all-time leader in steals and assists.
Robert Greenleaf coined the word and has a simple test to determine if you’re a servant leader: “Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”
To watch John Stockton on the court is to see servant leadership in action. Anyone that’s paying attention in the gym becomes wiser because of the way he plays. His teammates grow in confidence through his words and are more likely to become servant leaders because of the way he serves others.
Here’s a list of six things Stocks does every Sunday that can make you a better servant leader:
- BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER
John is the reason we show up every week. He arranges the gym space and then sends a text message letting us know when we’re playing.
He invites a mix of professional, collegiate and high school players so that we can all learn from each other. His weekly text messages and love of the game has kept the group together for over ten years.
- SERVE OTHERS
Stocks is the guy who turns the lights on and sweeps the floor before we play. He grabs ice bags if there’s an injury and locks up the gym after everyone has left.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think he was the janitor or team manager. This makes sense when you realize his whole career was dedicated to making the game easier for his teammates.
- WORK HARDER
There’s not a warm-up game when John’s playing. From the very first in-bound pass, he’s taking the ball right at you.
He cherishes every possession, knowing that each play is an opportunity for a great screen, cut and pass. Since he plays like it’s the NBA finals in every pick-up game, you’re forced to either match his level of intensity or go home.
- HIGHLIGHT STRENGTHS
On multiple occasions, I’ve seen Stockton and a group of high school boys beat a team of collegiate and professional basketball players. He gets the most out of each individual by knowing their strengths and weaknesses and then places teammates in positions to be successful.
If you’re a slasher, he’ll find you on a cut. If you’re a shooter, he’s going to set a monster screen to get you open. He’s a master at building confidence in others by playing towards their strengths.
- YELL BECAUSE YOU CARE
No one gets more excited about a teammate grabbing an offensive rebound or making a great cut. His energy and encouragement makes you want to do it again and again.
He’ll also slam the ball and yell at someone who doesn’t hustle after a loose ball. But he doesn’t raise his voice because he can’t control his emotions. He does it because he cares about the game and wants players to reach their potential.
- CONNECT AS PEOPLE
The best part of hoops is sitting around afterwards and telling stories. We highlight great hustle plays, talk a little trash, and if we’re lucky, we get to hear a story about the Dream Team or NBA Finals.
Out of all the great things that happen during our Sunday pick-up games, John treasures building relationships the most. He really cares about us as people, not just as players. Stocks will even show up to hoops when he’s injured, just so he can still be part of the group.
John isn’t a great leader because he’s a point guard or the best player on the team. John’s a point guard and the best player on the team because he’s a great leader.
Leadership is not theory, it’s the culmination of all the little things you say and do for others. Choose one or more actions from the list and become a better leader today!