After the Carolina Panthers’ 38-0 victory over the New York Giants in the third game of the 2013 season, it was easy for me to acknowledge that I am a fan. It was the Panthers’ biggest blowout victory in team history, after all.
However, things had been much different in the previous few weeks. The Panthers had blown leads in the fourth quarter of their first two games of the season, resulting in a disappointing 0-2 record and lots of angry fans.
Sports radio was full of calls from fans ready to fire coach Ron Rivera, and many even were wondering whether Cam Newton was truly fit to be the team’s franchise quarterback.
I’ll admit, I was one of these disgruntled fans. Just like the past few seasons, the Panthers were off to a terrible start, and their prospects for making the playoffs seemed bleak.
But something amazing happened after the 38-0 victory. Now the fickle fans were talking about the Panthers as a Super Bowl contender! How quickly perspectives can change.
The phenomenon of fair-weather fans offers us some valuable lessons for life and leadership:
1. Successful leaders recognize that things are seldom as bad, or as good, as they seem. Although the Panthers managed to lose their first two games, they really weren’t as bad as their 0-2 recorded indicated. And despite their huge 38-0 victory over the Giants, that doesn’t mean they’ve corrected all their problems and are ready for the Super Bowl.
2. Successful leaders are able to see past the present moment. In order to effectively lead any team or organization, the leader needs an “inner gyroscope”—an ability to maintain balance and perspective regardless of the immediate circumstances. They can’t afford to swing on a bipolar pendulum of lows and highs, depending on the organization’s defeats or victories. They can see past the failures to a coming day of success, and after every success they look for ways the team can excel still more.
3. Successful leaders aren’t overly influenced by public opinion. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey one Sunday, the crowd enthusiastically greeted Him with shouts of “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” For some of us, that might have been the cause for quite an ego trip. But Jesus knew that, only a few days later, some of the same people would be shouting “Crucify Him!”
Yes, even the Son of God had fickle fans. Through it all, however, His inner gyroscope stayed in tack. Perhaps He called to mind the heavenly proclamation He had received from His Father at the Jordan River a few years earlier: “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” When the voices on earth turn against us, we desperately need to hear that voice from heaven.
If you are a business leader, you’ve no doubt encountered fair-weather followers among your board or your investors. Even the great Steve Jobs was banished for several years from Apple—the company he created.
And as a former pastor I remember well the highs and lows of people’s approval or rejection. I had to learn the crucial skill of allowing the peace of Christ to rule in my heart as an inner gyroscope—whether people liked me that week, or whether they didn’t.
I wish I could tell you that all your fickle fans would have a permanent change of heart—especially after a 38-0 victory. But no, fans are fickle by nature. Only a few are loyal through thick and thin. There are many Sauls, but few Jonathans.
Yet I encourage you to find those few faithful friends. And in the meantime, cultivate your sensitivity to the inner gyroscope of God’s peace, regardless of what the crowd around you is saying.