There is no one archetype of leadership. There is no one proven mold of a successful leader. Leadership can be vocal, it can be passive, it can be aggressive, it can be conservative, it can be charismatic and it can be full of second guesses.
But all of the world’s different leadership styles are still united by one undeniable truth. You are only a true leader if you practice what you preach.
And with that said, I want to have a daughter, and I want her to, at some point in her life, be coached by Pat Summit.
Summit announced on Tuesday that she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. She received this diagnosis from the Mayo Clinic after coaching this past season while not feeling normal. In an interview with the Post’s Sally Jenkins, Summit described how it was affecting her on the court. “I can remember trying to coach and trying to figure out schemes and whatever and it just wasn't coming to me.”
But only seconds after announcing that she was suffering from dementia in a public statement, Summit shared another important piece of information with her supporters.
“I appreciate the complete support of UT Chancellor Dr. Jimmy Cheek and UT Athletics Director Joan Cronan to continue coaching at the University of Tennessee as long as the good lord is willing. I’ve been honest, and I’ve shared my health concerns with you, and now we will move forward to the business at hand; coaching a great group of Lady Vols.”
It literally happened that fast. In the same 90-second sound byte, Summit announced that she will mentally suffer for the rest of her life, and then announced that, with the help of her Assistant Coaches, she’ll be just fine.
Although what Summit said was compelling, that part of the story is not what draws my fascination. I am instead intrigued because I don’t think Pat Summit actually knows how to handle it any other way.
Coaches, mentors and counselors all over the world can encourage you to work through adversity. But the fact of the matter is that your adversity is inherently yours. In some instances the motivator will feel the effects of the adversity; but no one will ever feel the adversity you face more than you will. And that mark of other people’s tribulations versus your own is the mark of a true leader.
And to the young women that she coaches, it will certainly be upsetting to know that one of the most influential figures in their life is suffering. But it is also certainly motivating to know that there is nothing that will keep their leader from leading them.
Pat Summit has nothing to prove. She is the most successful Head Coach in the history of college basketball, she will be in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and that court in Tennessee will bear her name. What you just saw was simply a glimpse of what 15 of the most fortunate young women in the country get to see every day:
A natural leader.