It was cold outside. I could see my breath. The section lead of the drum line didn’t show up. I was a freshman—third snare drum. I realized, “I’m going to have to lead this.”
I rallied the line and we went onto the field. My hands were shaking—part nerves and part cold. My drum roll at the beginning of the Star Spangled Banner was inconsistent. It was embarrassing. (Who messes up the national anthem?) We moved on. We began the pep band songs. I was off rhythm for two entire measures; it took four more measures to get the drum line back in sync.
We left the field. My band instructor grabbed my snare harness near my shoulders. He looked me in the eyes and yelled over the noise of the crowd, “Barry, what happened?” I replied, “My hands were cold. And I just learned the cadence last week.” He yelled, “You hear that?” He pointed towards the crowd. “They don’t care. They don’t care. They don’t care that your hands were cold. They don’t care that you just learned the cadence. They don’t care.”
That moment stuck with me. That was the day I learned that the world doesn’t want to hear excuses.
Leading is about much more than overcoming adversity. Half the battle isn’t showing up. The entire battle is fighting like nothing ever went wrong. The crowd didn’t know I was new; they just knew I was a poor percussionist who had no right to lead a drum line. I couldn’t take the cold or the pressure—at least that day. (I learned by the next field show that I had to be able to play the songs from muscle memory. When your muscles remember, they don’t care how you feel.)
Excuses don’t win battles and they certainly don’t win wars. There are times that leaders have to care more than everyone else combined. You have to care more for the success of the unit—of everyone involved (including the team, the crowd, and the customer)—than they even care for themselves.
How do you show you care? How do you do more than show up?