The Secret To LIN-SPIRATIONAL Leadership

Jeremy Lin has captured the attention of the sports world in dramatic fashion. Some are comparing the phenomenon to the media frenzy that surrounded Tim Tebow during the heart of the NFL season. But apart from both of them being great human beings who are well-spoken in their Christian faith – these are different stories.

Lin plays for the New York Knicks as a back-up point guard. Well…actually, the back-up part ended on February 4, 2012. Lin came off the bench in a game against the New Jersey Nets and ended with 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists. Plus, the Knicks won. The next game, Lin started.

The Knicks have been on a winning streak since Lin has blasted onto the scene. He has been given the moniker: Linsanity! After beating the Los Angeles Lakers, a game in which he put up a career-high 38 points, Kobe Bryant had this to say, “Players playing that well don’t usually come out of nowhere. It seems like they come out of nowhere, but if you can go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the beginning. It probably just went unnoticed.”

The point guard on a basketball team is a lot like the quarterback on the football field. He is going to run the offense and distribute the ball to the right players. This requires skill as a player and skill as a leader. In the midst of all of the hype around Lin’s success as a player (Lin’s #17 jersey sales have gone up by 3000 percent), I’ve noticed a few things about his ability as a leader.

1. Humility suits him well.

If you read through Lin’s story, you’ll see that he has overcome a lot to get where he is. He didn’t receive a scholarship out of high school. He didn’t get recruited by his dream schools of UCLA or Stanford. He did see success as a player at Harvard University. He went undrafted in the NBA after graduating from Harvard. This is the third NBA team he’s played for (mostly as a backup with few minutes). Up until very recently, he was sleeping on his brother’s couch.

And now, the national spotlight shines directly on him. Now, he is the most talked about story on ESPN. Not only did he come off the bench and have a great game, but he has consistently produced at a high level in all of the games since then. This kind of thing could go to a guy’s head. Yet, Lin remains poised, focused, and most importantly, humble. After one game, with every reporter cramming a microphone in his face, Lin stated, “I’m not really too worried about proving anything to anybody.  I think as a team we are growing and just trying to build on this momentum and I think that’s what everybody is buying into and that’s why we are becoming dangerous.”

It’s all about the team. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate the same character in popularity that he developed in anonymity. An effective leader will take any praise directed at him or herself and turn it toward the team. And Lin’s teammates are reciprocating, just watch the bench. His fellow players are cheering for him and excited about his success. This doesn’t always happen in a league where many players are concerned about their own success above anyone else’s.

2. Preparation shows in his game.

The best way to become an overnight success is to prepare like crazy – every single day – for the moment when your opportunity arrives. Abraham Lincoln (who knew his share of adversity and the hard road of becoming President) said, “I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” Jeremy Lin has been preparing for this moment all of his life. When the opportunity came, he was ready. We all stand up and say, “Wow! Look at this guy. Who knew he was that good?” It seems that Jeremy Lin knew.

His style of play seems fluid. He doesn’t get rattled. He has scored over 20 points a game consistently up until last night. That’s because the other team started to key on him in their defensive schemes. The result? He didn’t score as many points, but had a career night with 16 assists. This is no one-trick pony show. Lin is a baller.

Lin’s ability to get the ball to the right player shows his ability to adapt and play against what the defense is willing to give him. He’s a smart player. There are some people who feel like they deserve the position and then they’ll prepare accordingly. Lin has prepared well, despite being a bench player. He prepared to be a starting point guard before he became a starting point guard. Now that he’s in the spotlight, a lot of people who passed him over are left scratching their heads. Lin helps us to see that opportunity is merely a platform to display one’s preparation.

3. Responsibility comes with the job.

I’ve said it many times before – the choice to be a leader is first and foremost a choice to be responsible. There’s not a lot of responsibility when you play on the practice squad or when you watch most of the game from the bench. Jeremy Lin didn’t simply step in to fill a vacancy on the floor, he stepped up into the role of point guard.

The mantle of responsibility was never so evident as the closing seconds of the Knicks game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday (2/14) night. With the game tied, Knicks coach, Mike D’Antoni, didn’t call a timeout to set up a play, but left the game in the hands of Lin with less than 10 seconds remaining. Lin dribbled downcourt, settled in at the top of the key, and drained a three-pointer with .5 seconds left on the clock. After the game, Lin commented, “I’m thankful that the coach and my teammates trust me with the ball at the end of the game,” he said. “I like having it at the end of the game. I’m just very thankful.”

In order to be the leader, you have to be willing to take responsibility. The Knicks won’t win the rest of their games. There will be a moment that Jeremy Lin will have to answer questions about his performance in the face of a loss. But based on his track record so far, he appears willing to take the consequences of leadership for the opportunity to help his team accomplish their goals.

What are your thoughts? What has inspired you the most from this story? What takeaways have you seen from Jeremy Lin’s performance?

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