NFL player, coach and author, Steve Wisniewski, believes that life is a series of lessons learned.
He shared a few of those lessons on Monday, Dec. 7, at Regent University’s Executive Leadership Series luncheon, bringing one of few leadership perspectives from the world of sports to Regent. Because to him, the greatest leadership examples he’s encountered have come from three coaches he’s worked alongside in the all-American game he loves so much.
“I’ve learned that good leaders don’t just talk a good game – but they’re great leaders by how they live their lives, and how they handle themselves in victories and defeats,” Wisniewski said.
Wisniewski explained that because of spending time with coaches such as Joe Paterno, Penn State; Jim Harbaugh, University of Michigan; and Jon Gruden, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he’s become a better person.
“Would someone say that they’re a better person for having spent time with you?” asked Wisniewski. “If we thought about that, we can be people who cast a better shadow of influence to those around us.”
Paterno’s influence over his life at Penn State taught Wisniewski to “pursue his purpose with passion.” Wisniewski shared the life and character of the late-coach and his triumph in the industry, despite setbacks and discouragement from his father.
“He was never happier than when he was on the football field. He was tough but kind, harsh but fair,” said Wisniewski. “He loved his players, but he pushed them.”
Wisniewski said many people make mistakes in leadership by failing to serve others first. Where many would pursue glamorous jobs in the limelight, Paterno served as an assistant coach for 16 years before becoming head coach – a full career in the realm of sports.
Harbaugh taught Wisniewski that competition brings out the best in everyone. At the University of Stanford, Harbaugh’s no-apologies attitude is what drove his success and his team. His passion for helping his players and staff members, no matter how large or small the task, was what refined Wisniewski’s appreciation for mentorship.
“There was nothing that he couldn’t do. He was a phenomenal servant leader,” said Wisniewski. “People are willing to follow servant leaders.”
When he was with the Oakland Raiders, Gruden created a mentality that was his team versus the rest of the world. Wisniewksi learned to be passionate and find “the juice” of his pursuits, entailing the lifelong student of his craft.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” said Wisniewski.
During his own career as a coach, he made an effort to focus on his players as individuals, creating a space for personal relationships with each of them. In his own life, he’s learned that his best memories aren’t from full-on victories on the football field, but from games where his team was down 20 points and had to work their way back.
“It isn’t always about how you start,” said Wisniewski. “What matters is how you finish.”
Learn more about Regent University’s Executive Leadership Series.