“Most leaders already know what to do. They have read the same books and listened to the same gurus giving the same speeches. Our main takeaway from this research: For most leaders, the great challenge is not understanding the practice of leadership: It is practicing their understanding of leadership.“- “Leadership is a Contact Sport,” M. Goldsmith & H. Morgan
So you believe you are a leader? Who follows you? If there is no one following your lead, then maybe you are a manager and not a leader. Many believe they are leading their teams and programs, yet often-times they are managing them instead. Not a problem if that’s the intention and where your skillset lies. Yet if you truly want to lead others, especially in a good (ethical) and effective (getting things done) way, it begins by doing what good and effective leaders do. This article will highlight five actionable principles, which entails doing the “little things,” those daily behaviors which show how you “practice your understanding of leadership.”
Players and teams are led by leaders, not by managers. The authors of Strengths-Based Leadership wrote, “If you want to lead, it is critical to know what the people around you need and expect from you.” Research from thousands of “followers” on what drives them to listen to, work for, support, and follow their respective leaders includes their leaders being competent, compassionate, honest, hopeful, and stable.
Five Components Of A Leader
A competent leader exemplifies these five components
- Knowledgeable about their sport and their calling as an educator
- Committed to lifelong learning from varied sources
- Beginning with those in your organization to outside sources; has the hands-on know-how from practical experience
- Demonstrates the drive for being the model for how things are done (“do as I say and do”)
- Knows how to compete and helps others prepare to compete.
Listen so as to learn from others (open-minded and growth-mindset) and read resources to improve your knowledge base on all things related to coaching-educating (like Stack!). Open to hearing divergent opinions about how things are done challenges the status-quo via asking questions like, how can we do what we do better? Competent leaders live by the standards that are set and are consistent emotionally and behaviorally. Knows each player’s “buttons” on how best to help this player prepare to compete.
Genuinely cares about each person they lead; these are easily relatable people who truly have an “open door” policy; make connections with those they coach and work with. One of the most important roles for leaders is to instill confidence in others.
Takes the time necessary to genuinely know staffers and players. Is empathetic to the personal needs of those they lead. Do not sacrifice the individual for the win (e.g., having players play hurt in a big game). Respect the schedule and ensure that “off-time” is not spoiled by “voluntary” film work or meetings. Ask open-ended questions and actively listen to the responses. Get feedback from team leaders regarding the “pulse” of the team and make decisions that are in the best interest of the team as opposed to the outcome (e.g., during a heavy week of exams, consider shorter practices).
I define trust by not having to question. If you truly trust your boss, you don’t question her motives, and if players really trust their coaches, there shouldn’t be drama or distraction from players deliberating over what should have been done and who should have played. Trust is there when needed. One of the quickest ways to earn trust and show your Honesty is to DWYSYWD (Kouzes & Posner)– “do what you say you will do.” One of the quickest ways to sabotage trust is not following the edict, DWYSYWD. You will be perceived as dishonest if you do not follow-through on what you committed to. Obtaining others’ (staff, captains, players) feedback empowers all as it gives them a voice and allows them to feel part of the process. You truly have to give trust before you get trust.
Talk is cheap—follow-through on commitments. Ask staff and players for their feedback on play, training, or operations (e.g., what’s working, what needs tweaking, suggestions). Coach K at Duke basketball holds weekly “bug me” meetings so team leaders can dialogue about anything that is “bugging” them or the team. Are these questions ever asked of your team members? Those who are viewed as an honest back up what they say are straight shooters, say what needs to be said rather than what they feel the other wants to hear.
Optimistic about the present circumstances and where they are heading; Optimists experience less stress, live longer, and have happier relationships when compared to their pessimist counterparts. Optimists believe tough times are temporary, limited in scope, and there is always something that can be done to improve things.
Takes a “big picture” perspective from time to time to help the team realize they are playing for something bigger than themselves. Preaches and teaches that passion and perseverance (grit) can overcome any short-term adversity and that we can always be “in the hunt” despite being underdogs. It provides short-term goals to focus on while acknowledging the little victories along the way. They are helping others realize their contributions and roles and how best to appreciate their daily achievements. Reminds the team of the importance of process and that if that becomes the central focus, the outcome will take care of itself.
Ensuring you are consistent with your emotions and actions. Being consistent in what you do and how you carry yourself builds trust from others. I don’t know about you, but I have had some bosses and coaches who always left you guessing – which will show up today? The moody, maniacal coach, or the coach the team prefers who talks and supports the players’ efforts?
Aware of when the stresses of the day are being taken out on staff or team. Has a “critical friend,” such as a staff member, who can give you a heads-up when your mood is not a productive one for coaching. Knowing what leadership style best matches the situation and what the team needs at that particular occasion (more on styles in a future article).
- Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge (San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, 2007).
- Marshall Goldsmith & Howard Morgan, “Leadership as a Contact Sport,” Leadership Excellence, 2004.
- Tom Rath & Barry Conchie, Strengths-Based Leadership (NY: Gallup Press, 2008).
- Pat Williams, Coaching your Kids to be Leaders (NY: Faith Words, 2005), 169.
- Mike Voight, The Leadership Fix Game Plan (CA: Coaches Choice, 2020).
- Mike Voight, The Sports Leadership Playbook (Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishers, 2014).