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‘Keep your head up’, ‘everyone is watching, show the better you’, ‘set the example’. These days it is about being a leader and not a manager. It is about constructive feedback and looking for improvement and not mentioning the wrong doings. It is about empowerment. True, positive feedback is important. True, you should show your better self. However, what to do with emotions after a loss? With ‘improvement feedback’ if someone is not executing properly? Can we not be angry or dissatisfied and is that not a part of a leadership experiment? After all, if we want to create empowering leaders we should start by looking at ourselves first. That is exactly what I did. Hereby an insight from performance sport and five recommendations to create a strategic leadership document (as a guideline). To be used for teams and individuals working with support staff or specialists, in sport, business and education.
Can you not ‘not’ be a leader?
Yes, in a team it is almost impossible for everyone to be a leader. So, if we are not all leaders, then what are we? We should look at how not ‘not’ to be a leader. Firstly, what kind of characteristics are we looking for in leadership? There are many leadership theories (behavioural, traits, etc.) and thus I provide five recommendations around leadership and leaders in everyday language. My first recommendation would be to conduct a team scan for each individual and, where possible, about each other. Often, each individual knows perfectly well how they behave or what their strengths are. This can be done at any age and any level, as a matter of fact, the younger they are the more critical (or aware) they are. My second recommendation is to work around a list of the outcomes and create specific individual leadership tasks. In a sport context this could be, that a player has a ‘leadership role’ in a defensive zone play. This also carry responsibility and creates a defined leader in the team, without having to carry the team as a leader in all situations.
“The more specialists, the better the team can operate in complex situations. It also creates structure and clarity. Intrinsic task leaders, so to speak.”
True leadership colours?
Often, we expect everyone to be leaders, show good behaviour and ‘be the best we can be’. We get upset from a tough talk (as long as it’s not abuse), a champion that cries (you should be happy for the opponent right?) or that short interview after a loss (what do you expect? this person just lost! Be happy to have a few minutes for an interview with the person who just lost). Personally, I think it is healthy to show true colours, but with respect (read sportsmanship). Respect for opponent, teammates, staff, family, fans and media. However, this does not mean that you cannot be not upset, disappointed or angry. You can still be upset whilst shaking a hand after a game, right? These days it is all about showing the better you. That is not always healthy and not everyone can switch that easily. From young kids to adults, we need to deal with those emotions too. True, in sporting scenes there is plenty of evidence of bad leadership, but I wonder how bad it is, when it is not disrespectful. True, people think that athletes should ‘act’ like professionals, but does this mean that they should act like so called mainstream idols? In other words what does this even mean, a ‘professional’? Is there room to discuss and ‘vent’ emotions with your team for example? In some team cultures emotions or leadership behaviour filters back down to changing rooms. Creating that safe space within a team is important. Have an open-door policy and clear boundaries if that door is shut. Have the proper people and communication lines in place when specialists are involved. Often, we report, but not reflect. My third recommendation is to define with the team what ‘being respectfully authentic’, ‘showing sportsmanship’ and ‘being a leader’ means. Then link these to the leadership tasks. Try to center the discussion around being yourself and personal leadership tasks to create a leader role in certain situations. My fourth recommendation is to create a system of (safe) communication around the described expectations and use both documents as one strategic plan.
“Define topics like sportsmanship and link this to leadership. Create a communication system around the expectations.”
Developing leaders and leadership?
Developing leadership is about creating individual and team tasks. Those tasks should align with the expectations set out in order to reach a leadership goal. For example, an athlete organising a specific part of the warming-up. This should align with the traits of the athlete, therefore the goal could be ‘developing communication skills’ essential for a leadership role. Will they test their and your boundaries? Yes. Will they make mistakes? Absolutely, but that is good. Leadership needs to be tested in order to create an understanding of strengths and ownerships, otherwise it is not beneficial in developing leaders. Guiding people and adjusting the process is important to reach the product (being a leader). My fifth and final recommendation is to sit down with the staff and discuss targets to reach, add them to the Leadership Document. Action time, now go back to the team and test the waters. If you operate solely, ask from coaches or leaders on your level alike, in doing so you share knowledge and educate. Leadership is managing expectations and tasks after they are defined. Whether it is based on contingencies or transformations (hey, are these not part of leadership theories too?) set a pace and start running with it. Involve the group and you will see that this will create opportunities for authentic leadership. If individuals test you, then good it keeps you sharp. You may need to act on it or you may need to adjust your strategy.
Leader and leadership whilst being authentic. Of course, it is normal to show true colours, sometimes even if the timing is not perceived as right. Respectful leadership (sportsmanship) is the key. Five recommendations to create a strategic document (guideline):
1. Conduct a team or individual scan;
2. Create specific individual leadership tasks;
3. Define respectful leadership and document expectations;
4. Create a system of leadership communication lines;
5. Discuss and set targets and action them.
There you have it, now test the water! Any feedback received or given? Check if you need to reflect and communicate. Authentic leadership is like action research, a continuous cycle of improvement. Unsure about how to execute a team / individual scan or identify specific individual leadership tasks? Contact Blended Performances.
Bjorn Galjaardt (B.ed) studying Master of Sports Coaching with 12+ years coaching and managing experience from grassroots to elite level. Held roles in program management and currently delivering online and in person performance services and pathways.