Fellow Ravens buy into Lewis' leadership style to differing degrees. Running back Ray Rice, who sits beside him in the locker room, talks about Lewis as a second father who shaped him emotionally through long talks about their respective personal stories. Other Ravens are more apt to stand quietly on the periphery while Lewis gives his fire-and-brimstone talks about seizing the moment. Some take a middle road, gently poking fun at his histrionics while paying homage to his overall importance in the organization.
Setting the example
The concept of charismatic leadership goes back to 19th-century German sociologist Max Weber and is often discussed in the business world, especially when a renowned executive, such as Apple CEO Steve Jobs, hands over power.
The consensus among those who study leadership is that such transitions are perilous for organizations, especially when the force of the leader's personality is a major factor in driving performance. Sony and Microsoft are among companies that have lost momentum in recent decades after the departure of deified CEOs.
The transitions tend to be more successful, analysts say, when the leader has imbued the organization with enduring principles.
Losing Lewis is not comparable to losing a CEO, said Gilad Chen, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.
"I think the more relevant comparison there would be to losing a charismatic coach," Chen said. "This is more a case of losing an internal leader. The impact on the fans who love him, and the players who look up to him is noticeable. But it's easier to replace a player like Ray Lewis, especially when his ability to do his job on the field has diminished, than it is to replace the leader at the top of the organization."
There's no questioning the force of Lewis' personality. Anyone who has watched his pre-game speeches knows they have the feel of tent revivals. But Ravens teammates and coaches say he's the type of leader who goes beyond mere charisma and actually models effective behavior for those around him.
Players noticed, for example, how Lewis worked out up to seven times a day in the offseason and came to his 17thtraining camp 25 pounds lighter. They saw how hard he pushed to come back from a torn triceps, usually a season-ending injury.
"All he has ever been is a Raven, so to me, he exemplifies what you want to be as a Ravens defensive football player," Pees said. "For the guys like the Josh Bynes and the [Dannell] Ellerbes, [Jameel] McClains and all those guys to be around somebody like that, of that caliber, not only as a player but as guy in the classroom, just how to be a pro ... yeah, it'll have a long-lasting effect on us."
Williams, who has played four seasons with Lewis, called him the ultimate professional.
"All the little things mean so much to him," the Ravens cornerback said. "And you look at that as a young guy, and you model yourself after that as best you can."
"I think the model's more important than the vocalness," linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo added. "I mean, the vocal makes him kind of a spiritual leader, but the model, the blueprint … he's the greatest of all time, so you can't really refute that."
Spreading the message
Lewis believes in himself as a leader to such a degree that he has taken his show on the road in recent years, giving pregame talks to everyone from the Stanford basketball team to the little-known football team at Elon University in North Carolina.
One such talk came this spring, when Lewis met with the Loyola men's lacrosse team the week before its NCAA playoff game with the University of Denver. The talk was arranged by Ravens vice president Pat Moriarty, whose son, Kevin, played on the team.
Loyola coach Charley Toomey had never seen his players give such rapt attention to a speaker. "The only problem was that we had to tone our guys down after he was done," Toomey recalled. "We didn't want them to run through a wall the Wednesday before the game."
Toomey saw in Lewis a rare and genuine ability to connect, one that would work as well in sales as in sports. The Greyhounds went on to win the national title. But Toomey is now dealing with the same issue the Ravens will confront post-Lewis — how to replace J.P. Dalton, the captain who kept everyone else on track last season. He said such leadership is a tangible asset.
"I haven't seen it very much, but boy, when you've got it, you want to bottle it," Toomey said.
He then segued back to a moment from Lewis' speech. Lewis noticed a few of the Loyola players cradling jugs of water for pre-practice hydration. That was the right way to prepare, he barked. Why didn't he see similar jugs in every hand?
"The next day," Toomey said in his final verdict on Lewis' leadership, "every guy in the room had a jug of water."