I am ready to share two secrets that only my family knows.  The first is that my four-year-old grandson has called me Crazy Grandma since he could talk.  That is to distinguish me from his other Grandma Lauren.  Ezra has heard other family members calling me crazy because of the unusual races in which I have participated in recent years, so I take it as an endearing nickname.

The other secret is that I have a special sports hero.  Along with millions of other people around the world, you were probably watching the Super Bowl last night and spent the afternoon preparing food and following all the hype.  On the other hand, I was cheering on my all-time favorite athlete, Phil Mickelson, who won the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament yesterday with four phenomenal rounds of golf.  I affectionately call him “Crazy Phil.”

Phil Mickelson

 I’ve never admired another athlete like I do Phil although I’m not really on a first-name basis with him … yet.  Nor do I cheer for any sports team or individual athlete the way I cheer for Phil.  I confess that I have a natural affinity for “Lefty” because I am also left-handed, and I am an avid golfer (duffer).  That crazy Phil.  You never know what he’ll do next.  Here’s what I love about Phil.

  • He’s the most creative shot-maker in golf.
  • He has the vision to see the changing nature of every golf course and adapts his game to the conditions.
  • Phil’s always smiling, has fun on the golf course, and engages the fans as he plays.
  • He is well known as a risk taker, attempting crazy shots that no one else would ever attempt.
  • At age 42 Phil battles psoriatic arthritis, a chronic auto-immune disease, but he continues to persevere and play at the highest professional level.
  • When his wife and mother were both receiving treatment for cancer, Phil became an outspoken supporter for breast cancer research.
  • Phil understands the importance of giving back to the community.  The Phil and Amy Mickelson Foundation was formed in 2004 to focus on a variety of youth and family initiatives.   The Mickelsons are also heavily involved in the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides support to special operations military personnel who have been wounded and to the families of soldiers who have died.
  • Phil does everything with enthusiasm, passion, and heart.

Most of all, I respect Phil Mickelson because, as an athlete, he displays the qualities that enable leaders to be successful in their chosen field.  I am convinced that children who have the opportunity to perform, whether in sports, music, art, or drama, learn early lessons that give them an advantage later in life as leaders.  By contrast, children who are only spectators and never get their feet wet in the fire of performance do not always gain the necessary skills and experience to become the best leaders.

I spent most of my childhood playing sandlot games and later organized sports.  At the same time my parents (bless them) made me take piano lessons.  I still remember sitting at the piano at my teacher’s house, which was a block from the elementary school.  For some unknown reason my lessons were during recess, and I vividly remember looking out the window at my classmates having fun on the playground and longing to be there.  That round of piano lessons was short lived.

By performing I learned the necessity of preparation.  It is impossible to count the hours I spent in practice rooms over many years learning to perform on the organ.  Two to three hours a day in college and graduate school, plus many more hours spent mastering the art of choral conducting, singing, composing, playing scales, sight-reading, and analyzing classical music.  Without careful and focused preparation performance was not possible.

The same was true of sports.  Every afternoon was spent with whatever team I was on at the time.  We did endless drills, sprints, and scrimmages, all meant to prepare us for the rigor and intensity of game situations.  The key was disciplined practice, gaining the mindset of a performer.  Today’s leaders have the same focused intensity of musicians and athletes.

By performing I learned the importance of creativity and vision.  When children are encouraged to be creative performers instead of simply mimicking their teachers and coaches, they develop a unique style that sets them apart.  “Make the music your own,” my organ teacher in graduate school said over and over.  That freedom of expression liberated me from the rigidity of playing Bach in a cookie cutter Baroque style and allowed me to create my own musical personality.

In the same way when children are encouraged to just play instead of always participating in organized sports, they naturally experiment, tinker, attempt crazy things, and discover their own uniqueness.  The best leaders see what others can’t see and know when to color outside the lines to get from point A to point B.

By performing I learned the value of risk taking.  Playing it safe was never in my vocabulary as a child because my parents allowed me to explore the world and my vocation without criticizing or second guessing me.  I was never labeled a failure, even when my first wedding as an organist was a disaster.  And when I was always playing touch football with the boys, I ignored the name calling and followed my heart.

Teaching children how to perform in a supportive context, whether in dance or music recitals, soccer games, writing poetry, or reading the scripture in church, allows them to fail as well as succeed.  The greatest lessons children can learn happen when they are in vulnerable situations where it is safe to experiment, fall on their face, try new things, and excel.

Even when all doesn’t go well, children who live in a secure environment discover that perseverance, overcoming obstacles, and putting oneself out there lead to success.  They also learn how to receive and give feedback and what it takes to assimilate their learning and go to the next level.  Likewise, the greatest leaders are formed in the crucible of disappointment because they attempt crazy things, have faith in their skills, become wiser through their failures, and never give up.

By performing I learned about teamwork.  Most of my early athletic endeavors were team sports where success depended not on one superstar but on the cohesiveness of a team that played seamlessly and selflessly.  I also learned about the importance of flexibility and adaptability.  Sometimes my coach would ask me to shoot more, other times my job was to pass or rebound.  There is no “I” in team, I heard repeatedly.  Eventually, I learned how to build effective teams by observing excellent coaches and teachers.

Great leaders understand that their success depends on the quality of the team that surrounds them.  As a leader, I’m in good shape if I am the weakest link on the team because that means that everyone else on the team is smarter and more skilled than I am.

Finally, by performing I learned about passion, courage, and being part of something larger than myself.  For that I thank Phil Mickelson as well as a host of mentors, preachers, coaches, and spiritual guides whose deep desire to make a difference in the world has inspired me to attempt great things for God.  The greatest asset of a leader is his/her ability to rally people around a cause that will make a positive difference in the world even though others might call it crazy.

I am convinced that God wants us to become performers, not mere spectators.  God wants us to jump right into the thick of life and not watch on the sidelines.  God want us to risk all for the Kingdom rather than sit back and judge everyone else.  At the same time anyone who performs has to be a bit crazy because we open ourselves to all kinds of criticism.

Phil played one of the most amazing tournaments in his career.  The first day he shot a 60 and came within one stroke of tying the all-time lowest round ever in a PGA tournament.  By the third round he came within one stroke of tying the lowest 54-hole score ever in a tournament.  Phil said in an interview after his win, “I wasn’t playing so well at the beginning of the day but regained control of my thoughts so that I could see what I wanted to do.  All I cared about was doing what I had to do to win.”

The crowds adore Phil Mickelson more than any other professional golfer today because he loves his vocation with a passion and feeds off the energy of the crowds.  They call Phil crazy because he generates excitement and expectation.  Great leaders are also crazy because we never know what amazing things they will do next.  Jesus was even called crazy (i.e. he had a demon) because no one knew what would come out of his mouth.

Last November Ezra and I were walking hand in hand in Florida when he suddenly turned to me and said, “Grandma, you’re not really crazy, are you?  You just like to do crazy things.  So I’m not going to call you Crazy Grandma anymore.  I’m going to call you Run Grandma, okay?”   Crazy!