One place our journey often lands is Harvard Stadium in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is a grand and glorious place. Next Level teams create really cool drills and generally horse around in the grand, inspiring surroundings. Yet often our shenanigans – er, I mean "exercise" – is apprehended by the athletes of Harvard teams. And while our workouts may be shortened, this is where the real learning often takes place.
I will perch in the stone stands with athletes and have them watch as a football team or lacrosse team goes through practice. I will have them not watch as athletes, but rather as sociologists. We will watch as factions separate and rejoin among the ranks of the team. We will note leaders and followers. We will pay attention to how charisma and charm is as vital to creating dynamic change as is skill and ability. The teams will learn all about "alpha roles" and "beta roles." And the coolest part is when we watch how the important folks on the field are rarely those bright, shiny alpha-male types, but in fact the clever, powerful beta types.
That's right: the key to change is not the alphas, but the very, very important betas. Our teams learn how it is not always the winner who makes a difference. Rather, it is the people who deem that win relevant or not – the betas – who cause true change and make a real difference in our world. I am not saying that we "encourage passivity" or "teach to the beta." Just that we watch how both roles interplay and neither is really more essential, important or better' than the other.
Now, I never loved those terms too much, "alpha" and "beta." They imply hierarchy, and while there is a degree of hierarchical comparison involved with human society, I tend to not love the idea of "enforced roles of power." They can be misleading and myth-causing. In fact, we have invented a whole list of subcategories just to diminish the absolute, binary nature of the whole problematic alpha/beta societal type system. Rogue Alphas, Challenge Betas, Primary Alphas, Triage Betas, and so on; a catalogue of types to try to impress on athletes that you need not think that only the "#1 best" is the most important person to an action.
Recently, I saw a video that was like the conversations we have perched up in those stands. It did what we do; took an eagle-eye view of a societal process – a ridiculous and awesome one – and laid out commentary on how leadership "really works." What I loved was hoe the words "alpha" and "beta" were not used once, even if the ideas were often referred to. It was like our team sociology study lessons in the stands was recorded:
I loved the term "first followers." It is exactly how we explain what we "do" in the Next Level." Sometimes we get "the shirtless nut" in our ranks, but far more often we get those who will come the world's most important players; those "leader betas " and "first followers" who can try enact change.
And change they enact. I am always impressed and startled with where these athletes go. Of course, I am referring to how far they go BEYOND their sport. Which ism in the end, the idea of it all, now isn't it? I mean, who wants to make sacrifices for a victory that just ends up sitting in the past, basically irrelevant to what came next?
Because of the exceptional quality of the people in The Next Level, I am often asked "Where the heck did you find these guys?" Social leaders, entrepreneurs, fighters for causes, benevolent mentors; Next Level athletes always have that little edge. It baffles people how, in pursuits that typically attract the vain, the self-righteous and the masturbatory, that we are gathering the social conscious, the compassionate and the sensible.
Naturally, people's first assumption is that I, as their coach, "did something." That I have some wacky indoctrination or else some secret feed that emits amazing people. Nope. In fact, the running joke for almost 20 years among Next Level students is that they may have "the worst coach ever."
I am merely a man with a great knack for backwards engineering, improvisation, and a love for stringing together words. In many respects, it is the talented brilliance of our student athletes that stands for itself. I merely facilitate. They are the stars of this show. I didn't "find them." They found themselves. I merely put the megaphone to their lips, but it is their voice shouting to the world.
This is why I don't often take much credit for the businesses they start, the contests they win, the causes they champion or the societies they found. All I do is put forth a map; it is they who did the work to follow the journey.
They were the first followers of ideas. They were the lead betas to great feats. And they are primed to be the ones who make change. I am merely "the shirtless nut job" of the story.
Do not assume that you have to be the best, fastest and most ideal version of something in order to be a leader. Find the ideas that are already out there and then become their champion. As I remind our athletes often: stand for something that deserves recognition, don't just stand there and be recognized.
The cause is something you believe, not something you create.
The goal is something you witness, not something you imagine.
The purpose is something you learn, not something you invent.
Your work has the ability to incite change. Don't push to be the celebrity of the day if it limits your chance at becoming a leader for the ages.
I am grateful to all the student athletes of The Next Level who help create amazing change. Thanks guys, for following the vision.