Athletes are bad role models. That’s true if we define role model as someone who’s off the field behavior is beyond reproach. For many people Ray Lewis’ connection with a 2000 double murder disqualifies him as a role model. Plenty of football fans look at his excellent play and clean record over the last 12 years and accept that he is a changed man. Madison Avenue agreed and made Lewis one of the league’s leading pitch men.
Lewis’ role in the 2000 altercation that resulted in the death of two men will forever place his off-field character in a questionable light. However, nobody will doubt that Lewis was one of sports greatest on-field leaders.
As he exchanges his helmet for a sportscaster’s headset, it’s fair to ask what kind of leader was Ray Lewis? Anyone listening to the sideline or locker room speeches such as this one given after the Ravens were defeated in the playoffs in 2012, will call Lewis a charismatic leader.
Charisma has long been associated with the church, and Lewis’s personality has the religioius component. His legal troubles prompted a spiritual rebirth. Lewis ia a Christian who frequently quotes scripture during interviews. The Ravens’ Lewis inspired motto during their recent Super Bowl run was “no weapon,” which can be found in the Old Testament book of Isaiah.
Sociologist Max Weber is credited with advancing charismatic leadership theory. Weber borrowed the term charisma from the Christian bible. Charisma refers to the impartation of the Holy Spirit as a gift from God. Charismatic leadership is often viewed negatively because the focus is on the leader and his or her powers of persuasion. Charismatic leaders are often seen as egotistical.
Lewis possessed qualities associated with transformational leadership. Mary Miller, author of the article “Transformational Leadership and Mutuality,” notes that James McGregor Burns developed transformational theory in 1978
Transformational leaders are egalitarian. They develop mutual relationships hoping to convert followers into leaders. Transformational leaders also establish bonds of trust and love. Miller cites Kenneth E. Boulding’s theory of love. Boulding believed that love was the only form of power that is not abusive. Love allows the transforming leader to use power in a way that does not encourage “reverence for the leader, but the aforementioned space is held open for the follower to form a personal identity within the organization in a non-abusive manner.”
Lewis often talked about the role that love that Ravens players had for each other influenced the team’s on success on the field. Teammates such as Brendon Ayanbadejo echoed that belief.
Perhaps it would be accurate to call Lewis as a transformational leader blessed with loads of charisma – in other words, the classic tweener.