“What matters most in leaders is the ability to provoke greatness!” — Misti Burmeister

After that final bell sounded, releasing us from school for the day, I would throw on my shorts and tank top, grab my gear, and head out for track practice.

Track & field season was usually hot and dry in Gilcrest, Colorado, a tiny town about an hour north of Denver. Our dirt track was a gazzlion years old. Next to it was a dirt road, which is where Coach Rumrill would park his little pickup truck each afternoon.

I was never sure whether he drove to the field because he preferred not to exercise much or because doing so allowed him to grab a quick swig of whisky during practice.

Coach Rumrill smoked, had the belly of someone with a special appreciation for junk food and beer, and certainly never let us see him exercise. He cussed right alongside us and laughed hysterically at our lame jokes.

Yet, despite all of his “faults” – behaviors most parents wouldn’t want their children to emulate – he was a great leader who always knew exactly what to say to get us to perform. Seemingly without effort, he could pierce through our goofy excitement and banter and get us to focus – on a dime! He knew how to provoke greatness.

How in the world he got us to run a mile every day and do sprints and drills over and over again is beyond me. But I do know that I never once questioned his ability to help me become the very best discus thrower I could be. It never occurred to me that he should eat right, exercise, and smoke and drink less. It didn’t matter.

Would I have been an even better athlete if Coach Rumrill had practiced what he preached? I doubt it. Hedidn’t have the same goals as I did. He simply wanted to help me reach mine. Despite his unhealthy example, he led me to win three state championships. More importantly, he taught me to believe in myself.

I also learned a great deal about life from this extraordinary man. One of his favorite sayings was “inch-by-inch is a cinch, and yard-by-yard is hard.” These words changed my life and continue to give me hope. As an author, I translate them into “line-by-line is divine, and book-by-book is brutal.”

Sure, setting a good example is important. However, what matters most in leaders is the ability to provoke greatness – to focus on what moves the hearts of those they lead and makes their feet tap faster. And as Coach Rumrill proved, there’s more than one way to approach inspired leadership.

Do you know what inspires your team? Do you know what they’d give up their free time to achieve? Find that out, and you’ll be in the perfect position to provoke greatness – even if you don’t always practice what you preach.

Join the Conversation: Have you ever worked with an “imperfect” leader who was able to provoke greatness in you anyway? What are some qualities of those who have brought out the best in you?

Keeping it simple,

Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across GenerationsHidden Heroes and Power Suck.

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