Saturday, June 2, 2012

Above and Beyond Leadership

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others – Mahatma Gandhi 

Perhaps you never heard of him and chances are you never saw him play ball. Last week at the age of 78, he passed away. Jack Twyman enjoyed an 11 year career in the NBA and saw action in six trips to the All Star game and two Eastern Conference finals. 

According to a story by Yahoo sports writer Kelly Dwyer, when Twyman retired from the game at the age of 31, with his final year per-minute numbers nearly as stout as they were in his prime, he was the NBA’s second-leading scorer behind Wilt Chamberlin. 

But as Dwyer goes on the reveal, the story behind Twyman’s life and career goes much deeper. His actions and skill on the basketball court earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame; but it’s his exploits off the court that are worth a second look. Twyman acted as the former teammate Maurice Stokes’ caretaker for the last 12 years of Stokes’ life, after the former player suffered significant brain damage during an injury sustained in the final game of the 1957-58 season.  

Stokes’ family was too far away to care for him and workers compensation failed to cover his medical costs. Stokes was left to his own devices and grew more and more destitute. It was during this time that Twyman organized fundraisers for his former teammate, visiting him weekly and essentially acting as his caretaker until Stokes’ passing in 1970.

Dwyer relates that Twyman sometimes worried that his wife and family might become upset because of the amount of time he devoted to Stokes over the 12 years, but his daughter said in an interview that they had come to look forward to Stokes’ Sunday visits from the hospital. Twyman and his wife became co-trustees of the Maurice Stokes Foundation which was set up to defray Stokes’ hospital costs but grew to help other needy NBA veterans as well.

Harry Truman said, “Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” And that is exactly what Jack Twyman did. The measure of leadership is not found in how many accolades you receive, the position you hold, or how many awards you have won. Jack Twyman teaches us this much. So what does leadership look like that goes above and beyond the call of duty? Here are a few thoughts for consideration.

Above and beyond leaders take initiative. It was not enough to care that his teammate had suffered this tragic injury; Twyman took it upon himself to do more. With the success of his fundraising efforts many others would be recipients of his great generosity.

Leaders who take uncommon initiative will achieve uncommon results not known by those who settle for a life of mediocrity. It’s the leader who takes initiative and steps out of the security of personal comforts who will change the world.

Above and beyond leaders inspire others. Twyman’s work was not a one-man show. He organized basketball tournaments that drew the likes of Bill Russell, Oscar Robinson and Wilt Chamberlin.  And this is the influence that above and beyond leaders has—inspiring others to causes greater than self. 

When you step up and take initiative in your office or organization by going above and beyond the call of duty you will begin to notice a change in attitudes and perspectives. Others will not be content to simply watch you, but will be inspired to join you. When you embrace the challenge to live a life of above and beyond leadership you can be the spark that causes others to step up in new ways.

Above and beyond leaders live different. Leaders who go above and beyond the call of duty do so because they live differently. By that I mean their mindset is different, their heart is different, and there is a sense of knowing and living out life’s greater purpose. When asked by a reporter about his care for his former teammate, Twyman said, “I did what anyone would have done for a friend.” 

It was said that years after his accident, when Stokes had recovered enough flexibility to type, his first message was: “Dear Jack, How can I ever thank you?” What a powerful expression of gratitude by the man who would live out his last years in the care of a leader who went above and beyond the call of duty.

Have you found your calling?

© 2012 Doug Dickerson

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