BEFORE YOU CAN LEAD, YOU MUST LEARN TO FOLLOW – Volume 1, No. 6, November 3, 2011


In the book he co-authored, “The 7 Seven Wonders That Will Change Your Life” noted psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow, states that “more than any one thing, you must be truthful with yourself; It is never too late to turn and face the real story of how you became who you are in this world, in order to rid yourself of any emotional or behavioral patterns, especially unconscious ones, that are undermining your possibilities.” Keeping that in mind, in today’s blog, I chose to share with you a personal story which gives a glimpse inside to how a boy became a man. Frankly, certain aspects of this story do not portray me in the best light. Regardless, I thought it was important in teaching a lesson that others could benefit from. And so, it was a hot summer day in August 1971. I was an 18-year old sophomore (read – wise fool) at Penn State University as I reported to football camp in the best shape of my life. Back then, we all thought we were invincible; we approached the game on the field of strife with a reckless abandon of a “Roman Gladiator” in combat. Before we could even practice, we were required to run the 440 and 880 in less than predetermined times based on our position. It tested us to the limit and if you didn’t “make time” you were forced to get up at 6:00 A.M. every morning and do it again until you were eventually successful. Thankfully, I only needed one try to get the job done. During this era in college College Football, while freshman could not play in regular season games with the varsity squad, we were still allowed (actually required) to practice with them. And the year before, boy did we practice, day-in day-out, each week running the plays of the upcoming opposing team for that week. In doing so, we learned first hand the meaning of “baptism by fire”. As a freshman, I’ll never forget being welcomed to Division I football when Jack Ham (NFL HOF 1988) hit me with a forearm and knocked me on my can; and I thought I was a tough guy. While I got right back up, I was still stunned.

As the two-a-day practices started and we “put the pads on” the contact became intense, very intense. Coach Paterno loved “up-downs” at the end of every practice – I think he got great joy in seeing his players push themselves to the point of full exhaustion, and then some. About 2 weeks into summer camp, after dishing out a crushing hit to the head of the offensive center in an intrasquad scrimage, I emerged with a broken right hand; I had never had an injury which sidelined me so this was a new experience. At that time I was a second team inside linebacker. The following week the first team inside linebacker suffered a severe concussion and was ruled out for the entire season; for many years I had often thought of what might had been had I not been hurt. Regardless, college rules at that time precluded anyone from playing  in games with a cast, so for the next 6 weeks I practiced with a cast and this huge contraption that protected my hand. It was, as I recall, just awful. Finally the day came for my first college football game. I was so excited. My parents drove up from Maryland to attend the game held at Beaver Stadium. In addition to being on the kickoff team, I had kept my position as a second team inside linebacker. I couldn’t believe it as I looked up into the stands and saw 57K+ fans (capacity at that time – today it holds 106K+). In high school, our largest attended game stood at around 15K so this was quite a difference. As our kicker thrust his leg into the ball I was down the field faster than I could (or anyone for that matter) ever imagine. Unfortunately, in my eagerness, I had over pursued the kickoff return and in doing so was then surprisingly greeted by a player on the opposing team with a clip block below my knee; I knew something was wrong, terribly wrong, but it would take another 3 months before my knee would be operated on for torn cartiledge and ligaments.

After my operation, the road to recovery taught me a thing or two about how hard-headed I was. I wanted to take things at my own pace, and my coaches had a different plan. Did I ever think for one moment that just maybe they knew a thing or two more about rehabilitation that I did? Sadly, no I did not. Fast forward 8 weeks and there I am in spring football practice and I was not ready (my fault) either physically or mentally. As spring practice (5 weeks) ended I was instructed to meet one of the assistant coaches each week at a prescribed time and location to “weigh in”. I had always battled the demons of the “knife and fork” so watching my weight was nothing new to me. In any event, about the third week into my “weigh in” in the style of classic rationalization,  I convinced myself  that I really didn’t need to do this and so I “skipped out”. A few weeks later before heading home for the summer, each player had to meet with Coach Paterno. Apparently my indiscretion did not go unnoticed as he read me the riot act about failing to “check in” as well as not giving my best in rehabilitation. As so with my tail between legs I headed home for summer break knowing I was wrong, dead wrong; still I thought I could redeem myself. Coach Paterno followed our meeting with a letter (still have) to my Mom about how Italian mothers need to cook for their Italian sons. It’s a classic to pass down to future generations. Plain and simple, he wanted me to lose weight and thought it would improve my speed and quickness. I worked so hard that summer and reported to summer camp 25 pounds less; no one recognized me. I strengthen my left leg that had been operated on. While I was ready, willing and able to pick up my college football career where it had left off at the time of my injury, I would never again have that opportunity; two weeks into summer practice I had been demoted to the third team. Humiliated and depressed, I had missed my chance and would sulk, complain and place responsibility everywhere except where it belonged — right on my own shoulders. My last (senior) year at Penn State it only got worse as I would “walk away” from the game I loved as I gave in to the “dynamic duo” of “dissappointment” and “adversity”. I had allowed my spirit to be broken and later had deep regrets that had haunted me for many years. Although I beleived in God,  He was not a part of my life then, as He is today, as it pertains to faith and trust. Still, as the ensuing years passed, I had come to understand the meaning of “self responsibility” and would make it a point to thank Coach Paterno for teaching me a very valuable, yet painful lesson about doing what you’re told to do by someone in authority. It would take years to sink in and root, but eventually I realized that before I could lead, I must learn to follow. I had swallowed the bitter pill of defeat, but since it didn’t kill me, it only made me stronger. On the good side, in many ways, it greatly motivated in my professional career to be be successful.

Lee Iacocca is credited with saying “lead, follow, or get out of the way”. His words are so appropriate whether we are an employer, an employee, a head coach or a player on a sports team. If you are a “foot soldier”, you have a responsibility to be loyal and “follow the leader” if you will. But just don’t go through the motions, do it with a good (make that GREAT) attitude, a spirit of teamwork and from your heart with an abundance of enthusiasm. Some opportunities only come once in a lifetime and you may very well regret not doing what you were supposed to do, were able to do, but just didn’t think it was that important to do, or even worse, just didn’t feel like doing it. It is for this reason why I beleive that some people never seem to “make it” in life as their behavior has a strange way of following them around, no matter where they go. Frankly, it really doesn’t make any difference what you think about the directive, the request, or the order, if the Boss wants something done and it’s not illegeal, immoral or fattening, then just do it. When you sit back and reflect on this for a moment, being obedient is just another way to honor God as it is when we do our best, when we are productive, when we get to work on time, when we have a good attitude, etc. It’s important to be the bigger person, show some class and be patient; your time to reap your rewards will eventually come.  In the final analysis, everything worked out for me; I am so thankful to God for all my blessings and for guiding me as I try to help others “be the best they can be”. In so many ways, I feel that this is my calling. Because of what happended to me, I feel a deep responsibilty to help others reach their full potential – just ask my staff – mediocrity is simply unacceptable. Poor judgment and immaturity at a young age kept me from reaching my full potential. Manytimes, there is no option to go back and “do over” what has already been done. Don’t be afraid to face your own truth head on. Be honest with yourself and others as Dr. Ablow suggests. In my case, once I did, one day, years later, I would l have the opportunity to lead, and thankfully, I already learned the hard way, that first I had to learn to follow.

Have a great day!!! May God Bless You!!!

Joseph V. Carlozo (Joe)

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