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Have Courage

Greg Kozera

By Greg Kozera, Shale Crescent USA

The senior captains of our high school soccer team had a dream this year to win a third consecutive State Championship. When teaching leadership, we don’t tell our leaders what to dream. We do challenge them to dream high. The captains’ dream wasn’t unexpected. It was courageous and extremely difficult. In WVSSAC Boys soccer history only 3 teams have ever accomplished this feat; Buckhannon-Upshur HS 1993, 1994, 1995, Charleston Catholic HS 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, George Washington HS 2018, 2019, 2020.

In addition, we graduated 12 seniors in 2023. Most of them starters. We had a young inexperienced team. Our starting goalkeeper was a freshman. We struggled early on. Lost some games and continued to improve. Coach Joe adjusted training based on the experience and growth of our players. Our three captains learned to became leaders. The Region Championship game ended in a 1-1 tie. We won in a 6-5 penalty kick shootout to get back to the State Tournament.

The State Tournament semifinal was a 1-0 hard-fought win to get back to the State Championship game and an opportunity for a three-peat as State Champion. The Championship match was another tough game with Point Pleasant who we beat the last two years. Our freshman goalkeeper played the best game of his career. After regulation and 2 overtimes we were tied 1-1. This time we weren’t successful in the shootout and lost 3-4. It was a huge disappointment to get so close and fall short. The senior captains took the loss hard fighting back tears. This was the last game of their high school careers. When we set high dreams there is always a risk of falling short and disappointment. It takes courage to dream high. Our captains didn’t keep their dream a secret. That takes more courage. 

Many people and organizations are under achievers because they set low goals or no goals. In my corporate days I worked for several organizations who told me failure was unacceptable so everyone set low achievable goals. There was little upside for achieving a goal and lots of downside for failing to meet a goal. The most successful people and organizations have the courage to dream high. What I find is, when we set high goals we end up better even if we fall short of the goal than setting low or no goals. When I was a sales manager in corporate I had two sets of goals. My sales team had high goals. They didn’t know the goals I sent to corporate were low. We didn’t always beat our team goals. We always beat our corporate goals and were a consistent company leader in sales. 

Growing up what gets young people in trouble is following the crowd. This usually means following the follower. The “leader” of the crowd usually only cares about themselves. My parents encouraged us to be leaders. Dad told us, “If your “friends” all jump off the Hulton Bridge, will you? The crowd never goes the best way. They go the average way at best. Peer pressure and fear of rejection sometimes causes young people to make decisions they later regret. When I was in high school the “cool kids” the “in crowd” smoked. It’s not so cool when you get lung cancer or COPD later in life. In high school I didn’t have the courage to ask for a date because I was afraid of rejection. In college, I was more afraid of not having a social life than being rejected. I experienced rejection but ultimately had plenty of dates. I had the courage to ask my now wife, Lynnda out on a date and ultimately to marry me. 

Courage is a quality all true leaders possess. Leaders must act and make decisions. Every decision a leader makes won’t be right. They must admit their mistakes and learn from failure. Sometimes the worst decision a leader can make is no decision. The problem never gets solved. Once I worked for a manager who refused to make big decisions. He always needed more data. On one occasion the corporate manager showed up and made the decision for him. A leader needs to stay true to their values and their moral compass. Leaders sometimes need to make hard decisions their people won’t like or agree with. Layoffs sometimes are necessary in hard economic times to save the company. Sometimes bad hiring decisions are made or employees choose not to change disruptive behavior even after counseling. The leader may need to terminate an employee, unpleasant and difficult but necessary.

Earlier I mentioned young people following the crowd because of peer pressure. Peer pressure and fear of rejection isn’t limited to the young. We see corporate “leaders” today bowing to the pressure of Wall Street or other groups even when it doesn’t make sense or is morally wrong. I attended a conference where three European engineers recommended reducing European fertilizer and pesticide use by 50% to lower CO2 emissions even after the European Union Agriculture Ministers and the USDA told them it would lower food availability and raise food prices. In the USA, the engineers’ recommendation would violate the Professional Engineer’s Code of Ethics. European CEOs are setting high emissions goals which is fine except they have no workable plan to achieve them. The current CEOs know they will be long retired by 2050. 

Parents and grandparents need to be leaders. They need to have courage to say something or have a difficult discussion when they see their children or grandchildren are on a path that will get them in trouble. Leaders are able to influence people. They best way to do this is through positive example. Sometimes this isn’t easy. It’s not what we say, it is what we do that influences people. Our children, grandchildren and our peers are looking for leaders with courage who they can trust to do what is right. They will follow. Have courage!  

© 2023 Shale Crescent USA

Originally appeared December 11, 2023 /