Appearance and Leadership

I have been fighting a bad cold the past few days, so when I got home from a road trip, I took some medication and headed straight to the couch to try to get over this thing. It’s Super Bowl weekend, so there seems to be almost non-stop coverage of all things football. Amidst my incessant channel surfing (which, btw, my wife just loves!), I spotted a segment in which a panel of NFL insiders were taking questions from random people, but now was getting a question was from Rex Ryan, head football coach of the New York Jets. His question focused on his brother, Rob Ryan, and wondered when his brother would finally get a chance at being a head coach in the NFL.

The answer, given and confirmed by another panelist, really surprised me. Both men acknowledged that Rob Ryan is an excellent NFL coach and should get a shot at being a head coach. Both men, though, also pointed toward Rob’s appearance as being a significant obstacle for his ascension to head coach (I’ll let the pic at his wiki page suffice). In their minds, since the head coach is the CEO of the football team, that makes him the face of the franchise and most teams want someone whose appearance communicates something different than Rob’s does. One of them said that Rob is something of a rebel and his looks confirm that.

Now, I’m not trying to make a theological point here–even though a couple really are low-hanging fruit–as much as I am a practical one. Regardless of whether we like it or not, our appearance communicates something about us. Just to be clear, the point wasn’t whether Rob Ryan is good looking or not, but whether Rob communicated the kind of leadership traits that a NFL team wants at its helm. Rob’s appearance, at least in the minds of these NFL insiders, communicated values that weren’t attractive to teams. Perhaps the thinking is this, “If he defiantly maintains that look even if it hurts his career, then can we trust him to make the self-sacrifices that are necessary to lead this team?” Probably more likely, “We can’t put that look in front of our fans without ticking everybody but the bikers off!”

There is a lot that could be said as spin-offs in a conversation like this, but my only point is to get young men who aspire to leadership among God’s people to think about what their appearance communicates. And I would urge them to do so as part of the process of contextualization, i.e., understanding your cultural context and living wisely within it. Rob Ryan may be finding out that being counter-cultural in non-essentials hinders leadership.

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