In my book Building Good Teammates, I wrote about a nun named Sister Eric Marie. I referred to her in the book as “That nun,” a nicknamed derived from how frequently people used to ask me about that nun hanging around the team I coached.

If you’ve read the book, you understand the designation became a term of endearment.

I am amazed by how often people ask me about Sister Eric Marie. When I speak at events, strangers who’ve read the book will come up to me and ask, “How’s your nun doing?” or “Is your nun still alive?” Some even ask, “Is your nun a real person?”

Sister Eric Marie headshotI am humored by how that nun became your nun, like I have some type of exclusivity to her. I chuckle to myself whenever this happens, and then I assure the person asking that Sister Eric Marie is indeed a real person, she is still very much alive, and she is doing well.

Sister Eric Marie and I now live several states apart and have both transitioned to new missions since Building Good Teammates was published. But I talk to her regularly on the phone and through email, and I continue to marvel at her wisdom.

I recently posted a photo of Sister Eric Marie on social media, accompanied by the quote “Take them where they are.” I directed the post to anyone working with students/players who come from difficult backgrounds.

Dealing with people who come from difficult backgrounds can be challenging work and can test your limits. These individuals can be filled with an odd mix of despair, ignorance, misguided beliefs, and overcompensation.

“Take them where they are” is Sister Eric Marie’s philosophy of withholding judgment about other people’s past. It’s a way of focusing on the direction you want to help them go, while not being discouraged by where they presently are. It’s resisting the urge to reject without attempting to understand. It’s accepting the idea that we don’t all start our journey in the same place.

Each of us is molded by the experiences of our lives, which have caused some of us to acquire social baggage and adopt a particular way of thinking. Unfortunately, that way of thinking doesn’t always align with the team’s culture.

In his book Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle writes about his work with Homeboy Industries and combating Los Angeles gangs. When unsavory-looking characters, covered in gang tattoos and wearing “standard-issue barrio apparel” come to him for help finding a job, he describes the need to see beyond their current appearance and present way of thinking.

He writes: “You need to dismantle shame and disgrace, coaxing out the truth in people who’ve grown comfortable believing its opposite.” The truth is where people want to go is more significant than where they’ve been. This doesn’t only apply to individuals with difficult backgrounds, it applies to all of us.

“Take them where they are” seems like leadership advice, but I think it’s more like good teammate advice. You don’t have to be the leader of your team to incorporate the philosophy into your mindset.

Good teammates are constantly nurturing the relationships they have with the other members on their team. To them, relationships are of paramount importance. Being too judgmental or unaccepting of someone else’s past can prevent you from taking the relationship where you want it to go, which is why you must first care enough to accept others “where they are.”

As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.

Lance Loya is a leading authority on the good teammate mindset. He is a college basketball coach turned author, blogger, and professional speaker, who inspires TEAMBUSTERS to become TEAMMATES. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or through his weekly Teammate Tuesday blog.

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