Last year I interviewed Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. We spent two hours in his Seattle office, talking about leadership, humility, success, family, spirituality, politics and everything else save the one topic he speaks of so often, football.
I interviewed Coach Carroll to learn more about the work he started with inner-city, at-risk kids while he was coaching the USC Trojans in LA. Several years ago Coach Carroll started a program called “A Better L.A.” providing opportunities for under-privileged kids in the inner city. He has since duplicated that program in Seattle.
Coach Carroll started the program after driving to work at USC one morning and hearing a report about gun violence between gang members in a nearby neighborhood. The next day he learned of another killing and by the end of the week eleven gang members were dead.
Most of us would have heard similar reports and felt bad for the kids and their families, but we wouldn’t have associated ourselves with a solution. Perhaps if we were social workers we’d know a theory or a program, but Coach wasn’t a social worker. He was running the most successful college football operation in the country.
And here is where Coach Carroll differs from most of us. Coach didn’t start a committee to research the issue or read a book or call around looking for information. Instead, he got into his car, drove into the neighborhood where the violence occurred and befriended gang members. He helped their mothers carry in groceries, played basketball with them on the courts and invited them to come watch the USC football practices.
I’d known all this before interviewing Coach Carroll, so my question going in was why? Why did you assume you could be a solution? And why did you care?
The answer was two-fold, and someday I’ll release the book detailing this and many more interviews. But for now, I’ll give you the top two things I learned about not only Pete Carroll but about you and me, too.
Here they are:
He believed before we help others we needed to get over ourselves. I asked coach why he cared about those kids, and he struggled to answer. He wasn’t sure, really. He just did and he didn’t understand why anybody else wouldn’t. I pointed out that most people are too busy dealing with their own lives and their own stories to care about anybody else.
I wondered if Pete Carroll weren’t some kind of exceptional humanitarian or something. But Coach set me straight. He said early on he was consumed with winning, and to some degree he still is (though he cares more about helping other people win than himself, another key to his success as a leader) but after achieving success at an early age, he found the experiences somewhat empty. He got over himself (my words, not his) and realized he was much more fulfilled leading teams of people toward success, whether in football or life. It wasn’t enough to win on his own, he wanted to win with people he cared about.
Secondly, he believed we had the power to change the world. Like few people I’ve met (although I’ve met a few including Bob Goff and Tom Ritchey) Coach Carroll believed he was the solution to a problem. He wasn’t an expert on the inner city or on gang violence, but he knew he was intelligent and physically capable to go in and figure it out. He took action, he moved, he went to them and listened and made a massive contribution to the well being of others.
I can’t stress enough what a massive paradigm shift this is for most people. As we argue about who has the solution to many of life’s problems, few of us understand the absolute truth that we are the solution. If somebody is hungry, we can feed them. If somebody lacks education, we can teach them. If somebody is lonely, we can befriend them. There was no part of Pete Carroll’s personality that didn’t believe he could be a solution to the problems around him. If that doesn’t define a leader, I don’t know what does.
After meeting with Coach Carroll and reading his book Win Forever, I’ve had a paradigm shift. I’ve stopped complaining about whose solution is better, I’ve stopped letting my social action get bogged down in talks about theory. If there’s a problem, I ask what I can do, not what should be done.
What problems around you could you solve? What hurts in the world could you contribute a solution to? And what scares you about taking action?