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Tony Dungy’s gridiron lessons

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Caring leaders can cultivate superstars, who in turn go on to cultivate the next generation.

A good example is Tony Dungy, the first African-American football coach to win a Super Bowl when his Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears for the 2007 title. He credits two men with teaching him lessons that he still uses in every game.

Lesson 1: What are you doing to improve the situation? Dungy’s father was one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, the black pilots who began an experiment to integrate the U.S. Air Force during World War II. “We taught ourselves to fly,” Dungy’s dad told him. To the teenager, that sounded easy.

The lesson Dungy appreciated many years later is that you can’t let external events stop you.

“Things will go wrong at times,” he says. “You can’t always control circumstances. However, you can always control your attitude, approach and response. Your options are to complain or to look ahead and figure out how to make the situation better.”

Lesson 2: Don’t let anything stop you. In junior high school, Dungy came under the wing of an African-American school administrator, Leroy Rocquemore, who continued to keep tabs on Dungy and his friends after they moved on to high school. When Dungy was elected captain of the football team without his friend as co-captain, he couldn’t believe the vote had been fair, so he quit the team.

Rocquemore warned the teenager not to miss out on something he loved: “Why would you let anything stop you from doing what you have the ability to do?”

Eventually, Dungy and his teammates all worked their way back onto the team. They had a great year.

Bottom line: It took a caring father and a wise mentor to make the difference for Tony Dungy. What life lessons are you passing along?

— Adapted from Quiet Strength, Tony Dungy with Nathan Whitaker, Tyndale House Publishers.

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