“Gentlemen, this is a football.”  With those five famous words, legendary NFL football coach Vince Lombardi communicated his point to his players each year at the beginning of the Green Bay Packers training camp.  With pigskin held high in the air, he was telling his team that they must always start with the fundamentals.

“I can remember my first team meeting ever in the NFL,” Super-Bowl-winning player and coach Tony Dungy shared with me as he reminisced about his days playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  “I was a rookie.  Chuck Noll was the coach and the Steelers had won two Super Bowls already.  And I thought I was going to hear some fantastic stuff describing how you get to be Super Bowl champions; how you get to be a great player.

“Coach Noll—I’ll never forget it—said, ‘Champions are champions not because they do anything extraordinary but because they do the ordinary things better than anyone else.’  What he was saying was, you’ve got this misconception that you’ve gotta do these spectacular highlight-reel type things, you’ve gotta have special gifts and special talents to be a Super Bowl winner or an All-Pro.  He said, no, that’s not it.  There are fundamentals that it takes to play the game.  Executing those fundamentals, not forgetting them, and executing them day in and day out, that’s how you become great.  That’s how you win.  That’s how you become an All-Pro.  And he was right.”

Just as knowing and executing the fundamentals of football are key to a player becoming an All-Pro, knowing and executing the fundamentals of fatherhood better and more consistently than everyone else are key to a father becoming an All-Pro Dad.  Many books, blogs, and seminars do a good job listing things men should say and not say, do and not do as fathers.  Men need lists, and lists are good.  But we can’t skip the fundamentals.  And the two most important fundamentals of fatherhood are love and leadership.

And before you think I’m getting soft by talking about love, you need to know that love is anything but soft.  What drives a fireman to put on a 50-pound tank and climb the stairs of the World Trade Center?  What inspires a G.I. to storm Omaha Beach under a cloud of enemy gunfire?  As author G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”  Love for others is what makes a man a man.  And a man’s love, his manhood, starts with what is right behind him—his family.

The first fundamental—love

“Truly, truly, truly love.  That’s the most powerful thing there is.”  Those are the words spoken by UCLA’s legendary basketball coach John Wooden, at the age of 99 shortly before his death.  Love’s power is apparent.  But its essence can be tough to grasp.  Bookstores and shelves in homes are filled with books on what love is, how to love, what love does and does not do.  Unfortunately, many miss the real mark of love.

When the cunning Pharisees asked Jesus of Nazareth, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Love is not passive; it is an action.  It’s something we must demonstrate day in and day out, even when everything inside of us screams, “No, that person did me wrong, they don’t deserve it!”

Let me give you an example:

After receiving a phone call from the Tampa Fire and Rescue that my house was flooded, I jumped into my car and raced home from the office in the pelting Florida rain.  Once I pulled into the driveway, I realized what had happened.  We were getting a new roof on our historic house and the workers had taken off the old one but, for whatever reason, they were not able to get a tarp secured to cover the house.  So, in came the heavy rain.  The attic, second floor, and first floor were all inundated.  Beautiful old plaster ceilings fell to the floor, antique furniture was ruined, and clothes were soaked.  That night, June 1, 2011, we moved out.

Sure, it’s tough for my family to be houseless.  You get kind of disoriented and feel as though you’re in a fog.  But we’re not homeless.  We know where our permanent home is.  And nobody was injured.  So basically it was just stuff that was destroyed.  Stuff that can be replaced or wasn’t really needed.  Over the course of the next few days after the flood, we had to do many things, including finding a place to stay for the next eight to 12 months while our home was being rebuilt.  But as I thought about it, I determined that the most important thing I needed to do was to be a good example to all the people I would have to deal with through the process—the insurance companies, the adjusters, the contractors, the cleaners, and so on.

This incident, which occurred right in the middle of writing this book, would test my resolve.  Would I just write about love?  Or, would I really live it out?  Well, I can tell you that I’ve failed in some ways, especially in the area of patience, but I’m grateful that I’ve been given opportunities to increase my capacity to love and demonstrate love to others despite my failures.

After I wrote about what we went through on my blog, to my surprise, our roofer posted a comment on my site.  It was a great encouragement to me in light of the struggles we faced.  “Never have I seen or experienced such a magnitude of water in a home before, and hope never to see it again,” commented the roofer.

“On the same note never have I seen an action such as I witnessed from owners whose home had water dripping from every ceiling in the house.  As I entered the home, I braced myself knowing that the typical owner would be down into my face yelling, cursing, and threatening me.  Instead I witnessed owners, obviously in shock and disbelief, but also providing me a sense of grace in the midst of chaos.  There was a difference in their reaction that made them non-typical owners for the situation.”

Love is an action and we must choose to show it to others even when we think they don’t deserve it.

The second fundamental—leadership

Leadership must be recognized as extremely important not only in work but also in the home.  In fact, Jim Caldwell, former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, believes the home is the incubator of leadership.  He told me, “Leadership is first developed in the home.”

J. Wayne Huizenga Jr., chairman of Rybovich Marina and part owner of the Miami Dolphins, shared with me his thoughts on love and leadership: “We don’t talk a lot about leadership in the home and not much has been written about leadership in the home.  Nobody really trains us to be leaders at home like they do at work.  It’s so much more difficult to lead at home than it is at work because at work, your motive is getting a paycheck and if it doesn’t work out, we can separate.  But at home, we’re not getting a paycheck and we can’t separate.  They’re your family, regardless.”

Wayne is on target.  Leading at home can be one of the toughest places to lead.  You can’t fire your child.  There is no paid time off.  There are no raises or bonuses.  The rewards are rarely immediate or apparent.  How many times have you received a standing ovation when you walked in the door, or gotten the father-of-the-year award to put in your trophy case?

Leading at home is also tough because we have to discipline our kids.  But a loving and leading father must discipline his children.  I’ve often said to each of my five children, “I love you.  And I’m only saying or doing this because it’s what’s best for you.”

Do I like discipline?  No.  Do my children like it?  Of course not.  But, if I really do it in the right way and for the right reasons, they will at least know that I’m doing it out of love and, as a result, I’ll earn the right to lead them in other areas of life too.

The love and leadership connection

What’s love got to do with leadership?  Everything.  Love is leadership’s unseen essential.  We don’t see it and it’s not normally talked about in the context of leadership, but it’s a vital component in the life of every great leader.

Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines, said, “I would far rather have a business led by love than by fear.”  So, if you include yourself among those who find “love” a hard word to link with “leadership,” then remember this: Herb Kelleher’s Southwest Airlines, the company he declared from the start to be “led by love,” whose headquarters is called “Love Airfield” and whose stock market listing is “LUV,” is the most profitable airline in U.S. commercial aviation history.

Love is one of the most effective and efficient leadership strategies that ever existed.  And infusing love into an organization, as well as the home, delivers a better return on investment than any other single investment you can make.  Great organizations and great families are fueled by loving leaders.

Excerpted from All Pro Dad: Seven Essentials to be a Hero to Your Kids by Mark Merrill. Thomas Nelson ©2012. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc.