A leader is a person who has the ability to lead or command an entire group of people, a leader is someone who is followed by other people. Being a leader is a wonderful privilege, it is something that is not necessarily handed to an individual nor is it something that can be bought, leadership is something that is earned. This entire course we have been learning about and discussing various characteristics of effective leaders. Some of those characteristics included confidence, charisma, courage, heart, perseverance, and among many others. This paper will focus primarily on one individual who exemplifies these traits and many other characteristics which contributes greatly to his success as a leader. The person that has been selected for the basis of this paper is Ray Lewis, a twelve year pro-bowl selection linebacker from the Baltimore Ravens.
The reason I have chosen Lewis for this paper is because of the qualities he has as a leader not only on the playing field, but off of it as well. He is what I believe to be the best and most motivational and inspirational player in the National Football League today, maybe even all sports. The object of this paper is to elaborate on Lewis’ characteristics and provide an explanation of his leadership style and why they are effective.
This paper will begin by giving an in depth analysis of Ray. After the analysis it will then move into discussing Ray’s styles of leadership. After talking about Lewis’ styles it will then begin going through all his characteristics as a leader and what makes him stand out as a leader, in other words, I will explain why Ray Lewis is such a powerful and effective leader and the reason he stands out to people other than his organization.
Ray Lewis is a professional football player who is currently in his 17th season playing for the Baltimore Ravens in the National Football League. Lewis, born on May 15th 1975, ranks him amongst one of the oldest current players in the league. Even at age thirty-seven Lewis manages to still be one of the most dominant forces in the game today even while competing with and against athletes who are nearly half of his age. Seasoned but experienced, Lewis still has much to offer his team regardless of his age. Statistically Lewis still remains up near the top of the list. In seventeen seasons Lewis has won multiple individual awards as well as team awards during his time in the NFL. Lewis has been selected to thirteen pro-bowl appearances in his seventeen year career.
Essentially the pro-bowl is a nation wide vote on what players go to an all-star game, the players who are selected are deemed the best at their position during that year. Lewis has also been selected as the best defensive player in football in two of those seasons, which earned him the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2000 and 2003. In 2000, the Baltimore Ravens lead by Lewis were underdogs in the biggest game of the year, the Superbowl. The Baltimore Ravens won that game 34-7 over the New York Giants to clinch the perfect end to their season. Lewis became only the second linebacker to win the MVP award for his performance in that game.
Adding to his collection of individual awards was the ultimate award of National champions after winning the Superbowl. Since 1996 Lewis has started 228 regular season games and 17 playoff games. In those 228 games he has recorded 2,061 tackles, 41 sacks (times tackled the Quarterback), 31 interceptions, and 3 defensive touchdowns. These numbers are a clear representative of how dominant Ray can be on the field as well as what a long and powerful career he has had thus far. Not only do these numbers say that he has had a great career, but it shows that Lewis has credibility behind everything he says on and off the field.
Before getting into the leadership styles of Ray Lewis, I want to provide a historical background of him in order to give a brief idea of Ray’s childhood and where he came from. Ray Anthony Lewis was born on May 15th 1975 in Bartow, which is a small city in Central Florida. His mother Sunseria Smith, had Ray at a very early age of 15. His father walked out on both Ray and his mother while they were in the hospital without his new born baby even having a name. The first time he ever saw his father face to face was when Ray was just shy of a year old. The abandoning of Ray by his father played a tremendous role and had a large impact on his life as the time went by. He believes his fathers absence in his life actually helped shaped him as a man and made him the character that he is today.
Growing up, Ray witnessed many things in life that effected him individually in a way that would alter the path of his life. As the years went on, Ray still without a father, began to play sports as a kid. He found his calling in football when he was told by multiple coaches that he had a natural talent and was extremely gifted. The problem was that Ray had no one to tell at home.
His mother was constantly working, she maintained three jobs to keep the house over their head and food on the table. Every time he did something great in life his father was never there. When he graduated from highschool, his father was still not there. When he accepted a scholarship to Miami University in the spring of 1993, his father yet again failed to show his son support. The reason this is important and relevant to Ray’s characteristics of a good quality leader is because it is the spark behind his motivation.
“I was pissed off” was the answer Lewis gave the interviewer when asked how he felt about his situation with his father (E:60. Ray Lewis, 2012). He explained how his fathers absence in his childhood angered him, and confused him. He often wondered how someone could create life and just leave it behind like nothing ever happened. The pain that Ray was receiving from all the broken promises, lack of time spent with his father, and being the only man in the house growing up was all turned into a positive energy for him. The reason that his father is a popular topic thus far is because of how he created the man that Ray Lewis is based on the fact he left him alone. “I turned pain into my friend. The only ever way to defeat pain, is to recognize that pain exists.
That’s the only ever way you will beat pain. Because pain comes in every second of our lives” (A Football Life: Ray Lewis, 2011). What he meant by turning pain into his friend was that he would use that “pain” that his father bestowed upon him to motivate and drive himself every day by working out. “Sometimes I would do pushups and situps until I cried because I wanted to beat him so bad! I wouldn’t stop, I promised myself I would never stop” (A Football Life: Ray Lewis, 2011).
Much of Ray’s success in training came from the drive he had from the pain he suffered. When he was in highschool one of his coaches handed him a yearbook and told him to turn to the sports page. On that page was a picture of Ray’s father Ernie. The next page had a list of records for every sport, in the number one slot for record holders was Ray’s fathers name. He made a promise to himself that he wouldn’t stop training, he would never give up no matter what, and he would continue to fight through the pain until his fathers name was gone off of those records. Every time he took over a record, he crossed his fathers name off of the record list.
The past of Ray Lewis is the reason for why he is the leader that he is today. Growing up with a single mother, Ray witnessed his mother in many broken relationships. As a child, there were multiple occasions where Ray saw his mother with bruised arms, black eyes, cut up faces and other signs of domestic abuse from failed relationship. Another motivation he had for working so hard was to make sure that “No man, ever, ever put his hands on my mother again or family again” (A Football Life: Ray Lewis, 2011).
This mentality Ray had would continue on for the rest of his life. He developed the skills necessary for fulfilling the leadership role at a very early age. All of this makes it very easy to see as to why Ray Lewis has developed the characteristics necessary for being an independent, trustworthy, never going to quit, hard working, and passionate individual. I could go on and on about characteristics, virtue, and other good qualities Ray possesses and we will eventually get there. The next part of this paper is going to examine Ray in the modern era, and look at his leadership styles and why they are so effective as well as examine the possibilities as to why he is so well respected as a leader.
“I’m a natural born leader” Ray admits, he constantly reminds people that if they follow him he will take them to greatness (America’s Game: 2000 Baltimore Ravens). This section will focus primarily on leadership, and why Ray is a great example of exemplary leadership and what styles he uses for leading his organization. The first style of Ray that will be mentioned is his ability to lead by example. This type of leadership according to the EIL module is considered “modelling the way” which essentially means paving the path for teammate’s and/or the organization by leading by example.
In the National Football League players are considered the best of the best at what they do, being confident is hardly an issue, but being the best does not necessarily mean that they work or play like they are the best. Essentially what I mean is that it is very easy for people who are good at something to not think that they need to continue working to get better. Yet it is very hard to not give a hundred percent at something when the entire atmosphere of the organization is doing the same thing.
However, when there is that one person who is constantly trying to outwork everyone and never settles for anything less than a hundred percent it is very difficult for the entirety of the team and/or organization to continue slacking or not giving it their best effort. This type of leader forces to people to want to do well by consistently working to the best of their abilities and never quitting. When talking about Lewis and his ability to lead it is important to look at how he handles situations of adversity. Every person, team, and organization has at one point in their existence faced a matter of adversity or been in some situation where they had to climb their way out of a struggle.
The year 2000, marked a major transition in Ray Lewis’ life. That year Ray was facing adversity as an individual for he was accused of murder after his involvement in a bar fight one Saturday night (Beyond the Glory 2004). The charges were dropped and Ray was considered wrongfully accused, however, even though proven innocent this still did not help his image in any way, shape or form. Those who knew Ray closest knew he was not about violence and never believed it was true. That year the Ravens were playing an away game against the Tennessee Titans. Ray Lewis was being introduced and as he was coming through the tunnel the fans were yelling vulgar, offensive, and racist comments towards him.
They were shouting “You black son of a bitch” and other racial slurs towards Lewis. His team mate Trent Dilfer noted that the way Lewis reacted to that was amazing, he did not act out of anger or say anything back. He simply proved to his team that no matter what someone says to you “you always have to move on” and never stop fighting. Lewis did just that, he used what these fans were yelling at him and turned it into positive energy, leading the Ravens to a victory over the Titans that game (Americas Game: 2000 Baltimore Ravens).
The team had his back, and once they saw how Lewis was transitioning the negativity into a positive they followed his lead. Lewis was known for making a claim and backing it up. He would constantly repeat himself about how he is going to win this game for his team, as long as they follow his lead and have his back because he will always have theirs. He would never allow himself to fail on the field, he would back up all of his words with actions and that made him an effective individual that people could put their trust in. He did just that, in 2000 he led the league with 137 recorded tackles, 3 interceptions, and 3 sacks (LLC 2000).
The importance of leading by example goes hand in hand with the individuals ability to be an influential, motivation, and inspirational one as well. This leadership style is also known as “encouraging the heart.” This style of leadership is actually what Lewis is most known for, the way he can inspire his teammate’s with words of wisdom and words of truth. Lewis can capture the minds of many of his team by simply talking to them. He enables people to want to do well and gives them a whole new confidence that mentally prepares them for something important. Anytime that Lewis felt his team was becoming shy of hope, and losing faith, he would be the one to get them back up on their feet and make them believe nothing is impossible.
Before every game Ray gathers his teammate’s together to provide them with mental energy. Usually he begins by telling them that they should never settle for anything less than their best. He always reminds them why they are where they are today, and how they need to take advantage of every opportunity that appears. He constantly reminds them that he will be there for them when they are in a moment of despair. Any time they are feeling like they cannot move on they will be reignited with him giving it his all. “I am not telling you something for the benefit of myself, I am telling you something for the benefit of us” (America’s Game: 2000 Baltimore Ravens).
The intriguing thing about Lewis is that he understands when it is time to talk, and when it is time no listen. As credible of a player he is, Lewis still respects every time his coaches or players have something to say. “The most surprising things I have discovered about Ray upon first meeting him was how quiet he really is. Lewis rarely opens his mouth and is usually found in the background quietly watching and observing everything that goes on in a meeting. Wisely, Lewis is very selective about when he chooses to deliver a vocal message. But when he does, everyone listens” (Riddle, 2012). Those times that he chooses to open his mouth he delivers powerful messages that force people to believe in something greater than what they think they see.
The following passage is a speech given by Ray Lewis to his team and coaches in the hotel a night before their AFC championship game: “We have been here before, we done been here 3 years in a row! N’ we let this time off the hook. Make sure that you own it tonight and do not let them take you away from this moment man! Cuz this is all we got. That’s what ya’ll don’t realize most of the time, that we gonna get this again. We gonna get this again, the car runs too fast. That’s why we got to savour these moments cuz of right now. I couldn’t understand that when I was 24 and 25. That’s why God had to incarcerate me so I could see how great my blessing was that he gave me. So I had to come from a jail being in position, to then step onto a Superbowl podium man.
I don’t do this for me, I just watch enough film so that I can put myself in position to make my defence the best damn defence in football. That’s why I come back every year. We are not letting this team get out of here this time. That’s what we here for, a W! And when we get off the bus tomorrow, we get off it with a swagger, a swagger that says.. Done!” Lewis was known for his “we not me” mentality that inspired many people to want to play with him, for him, and for the team. A distinct story stood out about this man. It was a the beginning of a new season, Lewis and the Ravens were about to take the field. Patiently waiting in their locker room stalls, nervous and anxious, all of these players have one goal in mind, to win the game.
All of a sudden, just minutes before it was time. Lewis stands up, and pulls out a bottle of what looks to be muscle reliever of some sort. He begins to go up to every single person in that locker room. One by one he dabs his finger in this bottle, and briefly touches each individual on the head. As he is doing so he is whispering something different to each of his teammate’s. What he is doing is essentially blessing all of his teammate’s. He is praying for their safety and courage. “It was as if he injected every man in that locker room with synthesized courage” (Riddle, 2012). This highly motivated his team, a new found inspiration was giving to his teammate’s that night.
This event touched many of Lewis’ teammate’s in many different ways. They all believed that they were one unit, one team, one family, because they had a father and mentor that they knew would always keep them safe. Lewis is well known for encouraging the hearts of other players, making them feel capable of succeeding. He is especially effective when the morale of the team is at a low because he feeds off of his players emotions, he understands how to motivate his teammate’s both mentally and physically.
As motivation as Ray Lewis is the list of qualities and styles does not end at motivational. One of the most stand out styles and characteristics of an individual leader is his or her ability to inspire a team based on a vision. This is one style that Lewis takes to heart and is exceptionally great at doing. He has the ability to inspire a team based off a shared vision, which is his vision that inspires the rest of the organization. Ray Lewis is know for his passion for the game, and an even bigger passion for being the best possible person he can be as a man of God. This mentality also influences how he thinks as an athlete. Recently, he was asked to participate in an interview with hall of fame player Deion Sanders during the playoffs. Ray asked them if they could hold off until next week insinuating that his team will win the upcoming game and move on to the next round of the playoffs.
“Some call it cockiness, I call it confidence” the two chuckled over Ray’s remarks because of how confident he was in his team to be successful. Ray’s mentality was simple, he claimed that he was never in it to fail. “See I’m not going to lose, I’m not in it to lose. That’s just a fact. I never strap up my helmet to go lose. And honestly, that’s a vision. And that’s the thing, get everybody seeing that same vision.. and if you do, man that’s rough beating a man with a vision, beating a man who see’s something” (Beyond the Glory 2004). This mentality Ray had stated would go on much further than just words that he thought of on the spot.
He preaches to his team about being one unit, thinking a like, having the same mind set day in and day out, because if that is the case then they truly will be unstoppable. He preaches about being “one heart beat, one mind” and that essentially means that they live and die as one, there is no individuals. Essentially, if one person makes a mistake everyone is accountable, and this went for off the field situations as well as on the field decisions as well. Lewis inspired his team to be smart, play with each other, and especially most importantly learn to love each other. Lewis said that if you are not playing for each other than you will never amount to anything great.
It is more beneficial to play selfless than to play selfishly. Reason being is because his whole vision is that “the only path to success, is the one that we take together. There is no other way. If we all believe in the same thing and have the same vision, then we will truly be powerful, and no one can take that away from us.” (A Football Life: Ray Lewis 2011). In 2011, Ray suffered a broken toe injury that sidelined him for several weeks.
Instead of acting upset like how most athletes act, he instead used the adversity and turned it into a positive for his teammates.“Adversity defines true character. If one of us is hurting, the other part gotta pick it up” This is the message he told his team the following game while he was talking to them before their game. He emphasizes that having a team believe in the same goal will ultimately advance a program and organization to new heights, in order to be successful all must be on board when making the right choices for accomplishing a goal.
Those types of leadership mentioned earlier in this paper actually compliment the next style which is challenging the process. This style basically means never settling for anything. Always going after target. When one goal is accomplished, another one is added to the board. Lewis is a firm believer that there is only one way, and that is up. And there will continue to only be one up until he stops playing the game when he retires. After Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens won the championship in 2000, Lewis was talking about it is great to celebrate, but other teams are already training to take down the Baltimore Ravens next year, and their goal is be right there at their very moment again (America’s Game: 2000 Baltimore Ravens).
Even in his workouts it is evident that he continues to push himself passed his limits because settling for mediocre and at a certain level is not what makes an individual great. Growing up, every accomplishment Ray ever had he would always tell himself that it isn’t enough. He wanted more, and he would continue to make new goals after every one was accomplished. This mentality would benefit his career as a professional.
He continuously emphasizes the importance of hard work, and will. The will to keep going when everything is good can often be more difficult then when everything is bad. When something is going well you tend to think you are doing alright and do not need to keep striving for more, Lewis understands that if this is the case then he will never be truly as great as he could be if he believes that is true.
A question that often rises when talking about Ray Lewis is where does all this energy and motivation come from? What is he like outside the game of football? Well, as was mentioned earlier Lewis has come from a broken home, fatherless, with a mother who was full time working two different jobs. His childhood is what fueled him to be great. Especially with situations such as domestic violence that Ray saw a very young age it is no question where his motivation to be a good person comes from.
When his father left him he could not grasp an understanding as to why a father would bail like that on his new born baby. “Why cant a daddy be a daddy to a child who had no choice to be here today, why would someone leave that child.” (A Football Life: Ray Lewis 2011). This was the reason why he not having a dad developed Ray’s mindset. “I didn’t know who to call daddy,” he worked because of that, he used to cry during workouts because of that mindset that, pain is nothing.
Ray Lewis today has six children of his own “4 kings, and two queens, and I have never had a greater push in my life than to see my children smile.” ( A Football Life: Ray Lewis 2011). This along side many of the people he met later in life would go on to be a reason why he is the man that he is today. Ray got involved with an individual who was suffering from a disease that was life threatening.
Bill Warble was Lewis’ biggest fan, an elderly man who promise Ray he would not leave this earth until they won another championship. Ray says that he owes Bill his life. He taught him a valuable lesson on life, which contributed much to his reasoning as a leader and how to act. Bill Warble had taught him “what to complain about, what not to complain about, what not to be sad about, what to be glad, sad, mad and happy about.” (A Football Life: Ray Lewis 2011). This changed his perspective on life for the better as Lewis began to see things in his own life a lot clearer.
Ray Lewis will go down in history as one of the greatest linebacker’s to ever play in the National Football League, along with that claim he will also go down as one of the best leader’s on any sports team as well. For all who have played with him, got a chance to meet him, knew him outside of the game, all of those people knew the real Ray Lewis and what he was capable of doing. “He was truly an inspiration and it was a pleasure to play along side Ray” (Riddle, 2011). Whether the team win’s or loses, Ray is never taking credit or placing the blame on anyone. He will forever live by his “one heart beat, one mind” mentality and will forever impact the lives of those who got a chance to play along side him.
After their AFC championship loss in 2011 Ray was getting interviewed by reporters about what had happened. He got upset with the reporters for hinting towards the loss being solely on one player.“What you gonna do put that loss on two men? Oh, Evans should have caught the ball, oh Billy should have made the kick. Well, maybe I should have made that tackle in the third quarter. So anything could cost you, so there is no one person that you could ever put blame on. We came here as a team, we locked and loaded as a team, let’s make sure we leave as a team.” (A Football Life: Ray Lewis 2011).
He went on after the game to tell his teammates in prayer that they did what they had to do, that next year they had to make sure they finished. He told his team it is no ones fault but their team combined effort. No one person gets the blame. He kept the morale as high up as he could in order to keep his team motivated for the following season, that this loss should burn into their memories for next year. Use it as fuel, turn that negative energy into something useful. “Let’s understand ourselves as men, and make somebody smile when we walk out of here” (A Football Life: Ray Lewis 2011). This is Ray Lewis, his impact and his legacy.
“We get one opportunity in life, one chance at life to do whatever you’re going to do, and lay your foundation and make whatever mark you’re going to make. Whatever legacy you’re going to leave, leave your legacy!” — Ray Lewis
Sabol, Ed. 2000. Ravens Road to the Superbowl (Documentary). NFL Films. United States. Sabol, Ed. 2011. A Football Life. “Ray Lewis” (Documentary). NFL Films. United States. Farrey, T. Nichols, R. Schaap, J. Smith, S. 2012. E:60 Ray Lewis (Interview). ESPN. United States. N.A. 2004. Beyond the Glory. “Ray Lewis” Season 4, ep. 9. (Documentary). United States. Riddle, Ryan. August 7th 2012. Bleacher Report (Article). Web. December 4th 2012.