This is a story about a boy who loved football and a father who loved his son. The boy was small in stature but had the heart of a lion. He was determined to try his best at every practice and perhaps he’d get to play when he became a senior. But that chance never came. The boy never missed a practice or a game, but remained a bench-warmer all four years. Still, his faithful father was always in the stands. After every game, he offered words of encouragement, “Work hard, be ready, and your time will come. I see greatness in you.”

The young man went to college. Not surprisingly, he tried out for the football team as a “walk-on.” Everyone was sure he could never make the cut, but he did. The head coach admitted that he kept him on the roster because of his heart. He provided the other members with the spirit and hustle they badly needed. Thrilled with making the team, he wanted to share the news with was his father. His dad immediately got season tickets . In four years of college, the young man never missed practice but still never played. In the final week of his senior year, the coach met him on the practice field with a telegram.

The young man read the telegram and became deathly silent. Swallowing hard, he mumbled, “My father died this morning. Will it be all right if I miss practice today?”  The coach put his arm around his shoulder, “Take the week off, son, including the game. You don’t need to come back.”

Saturday arrived and the playoff game was not going well. In the third quarter, no one noticed a young man slip quietly into an empty locker room and put on his football gear. As he ran onto the sidelines, the coach and his players were astounded to see their faithful teammate return.


“Coach, please let me play. I’ve just got to play today,” said the young man.

The coach pretended not to hear him. There was no way he could take a chance in a close playoff game. However, the young man persisted and, finally, feeling sorry for the kid, the coach gave in.

“All right, go in,” he said. What happened next stunned everyone.  This unknown kid who had never had an opportunity to play in a game played like a superstar. The opposing team could not stop him. He tackled like a star. His team began to triumph. In the closing seconds of the game, the kid intercepted a pass for the winning touchdown. His teammates mobbed him with joy in the end-zone.

Long after the locker room had emptied, coach noticed the young man still there. He was sitting quietly in the corner all alone. “Kid, I can’t believe it. You were fantastic! Tell me what got into you? How did you manage to play like that?”

He looked at the coach, with tears in his eyes, and said, “Well, you knew my dad died, and you knew he came to every game, but did you know that my dad was blind?” The coach shook his head slowly in disbelief. The young man swallowed hard and forced a smile, “Dad never missed one of my games in all these years, but today was the first time he could see me play.”


What we see in our minds eye is far superior to what we see with our own eyes. We need to see the greatness in others.

The father went to every game for his son because he knew that one day the success that was already in his son would have a chance to shine. The father did not need his eyes to see the greatness that lay within his son. He saw the young man’s potential, so he reaffirmed that inner hero with his consistent attendance.

The father’s presence was the son’s inspiration.

Absence is not a reward for excellence. Leaders spend time with their best team members. Too often, we develop the mistaken notion that our strongest players are the ones we don’t need to spend time with. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Leaders who spend time with their high-performing or high-potential team members, signal their support.

Time is one of the most precious commodities we can offer. So, when we spend time with another person, we acknowledge their value and reward their effort. They will take that motivation and run with it.


The patience and persistence of the son also holds insight for us as leaders. For years, the son worked diligently toward a goal of playing in a game. He did everything that was asked, prepared himself and supported his teammates. Season after season, he kept his dream alive.

We often praise the action quality of leadership but we can miss the value of stalwart patience, the power in preparation, the significance of calm. But patience does not mean hibernation. Being vigilant for opportunity does not preclude making one when the time demands it. The son’s persistence in gaining playing time after his father’s passing is the result of his confidence spilling over into the moment – an unstoppable desire to excel when it mattered most. That’s a quality all leaders share – the ability to not be denied when a critical window of opportunity opens.

Leadership isn’t about how many minutes we play but rather what we do when we get our chance. It isn’t about whether you’re in the headlines or on the sidelines. But rather, about being ready on the frontline when it matters. Leadership is supporting what we can’t see but we know is there. It’s about helping others see the hero inside each of them. Leaders don’t reward people with their absence. They inspire them with their presence. Leaders see the greatness in everyone. In the end, the son didn’t become a star because his father died. The son was already a star because of how his father lived.

leadership books

This vignette was adapted from one that appeared in the book, Inspired to Succeed, by Christopher Novak. The book is a collection of 12 inspirational stories and the leadership lessons from each. It makes an ideal gift for a colleague, boss or professional in your life. Chocolate Pizza Company offers this book and several others on their website. Central New York’s largest chocolate maker, Chocolate Pizza Company is famous for its gourmet Chocolate Pizza and Peanut Butter Wings. It has been featured on CNBC, Hallmark Channel, Food Network and in Forbes magazine.