Last month, North Carolina was saddened and deeply affected by the loss of Dean Smith, dead at the age of 83. Throughout the week, more and more stories about his life and legacy came out each day. The topics varied, but there was one consistency: It was challenging to find an article that solely focused on his coaching career.
The articles instead expressed the same subtle point over and over again: Dean Smith was the epitome of a servant-leader.
This made us at The Mycenaean think: How come there aren’t more servant-leaders like Dean Smith in society? Where would we be if there were?
America brings new challenges with each passing day. At a time when social issues were arguably more important than they are today, Dean Smith was able to live an exemplary life that many of us are just now realizing he lived today.
If anything, Dean Smith’s death was an eye opener.. In the years after he retired, he was so private and out of the spotlight that his example was somewhat forgotten. But once he passed, all of a sudden the incredible life and legacy of the coach was brought back into the focus, and with it, a chance for us to learn.
Dean Smith was a legend on the basketball court for 40 years and that’s not to be disputed.
But, his servant leadership qualities were exhibited off the court rather than on. Sure he was humble, often quiet, and a perfectionist, but Dean was successful at the game of life because of his knack to care about the people around him. The “servant” in servant leader comes from leaders striving to serve those around them, and Dean always seemed to exhibit this trait.
One can talk to any of his former players, and they will all say the same thing. It will be something along the lines of, “He was a man who truly cared about our lives and well-being. He invested in us.”
That’s what set Dean apart. Dean made time for his players, whether that was dinner at the restaurant he helped integrate, making a trip to a black community to visit his players’ families, or just sitting down and talking to his beloved players in his office.
Dean Smith was incredibly enthusiastic when it came to overcoming social issues such as racism and segregation. Let’s not forget that it was Dean that invested in the life of a young Charlie Scott, who would turn out to be the first black scholarship athlete at UNC or the ACC.
In looking at this example, you have to ask yourself: where did all of the genuine servant-leaders go in society?
Today, we don’t think of “leaders” visiting their friend’s homes regularly or going to the churches of his players or employees. Instead, we think of impersonal, unrealistic human interaction that shows care, such as twitter or text messaging.
There’s nothing wrong with this subtle leadership, but Dean Smith wanted much more. He wanted a relationship with his players and wanted to genuinely impact their lives for the positive, so that there would be substance present long after basketball. As a man of faith, he was also always reminding people there was a lot more to life than just basketball, and that life would go on after it, just as he did on that memorable retirement day back in 1997.
So, as Dean Smith said in his book, one of the best ways to learn is to observe. We want people of all kinds to Observe Dean Smith’s life, and realize that he was a true servant leader — a servant leader whom was successful not only in sport, but in causing social change and creating men of character always in the most humble light possible.
The Mycenaean thinks that servant-leadership is highly underrated and could be used in amazing ways to foster political and social change that was mentioned above. Whether it’s racial tensions in Ferguson or politics across the nation, we need our leaders to learn from Dean. We want them to attempt to invest in citizens lives, so that they can learn more about the issue but also garner a care for the people around yourself.
We want the servant-leaders to come back into society as they used to be. Dean would be pleased.