There are examples of great leaders from our past that reinforce valuable leadership principles. This may also include leaders you would like to emulate and those you would like to stand clear of their practices. Athletics are a proving ground for a number of these lessons. There are some coaches you are more effective than others.
I was a long distance runner in high school and college. The track coach was naturally, an integral part of the team. The right coach with the right talent could make the difference between winning and losing.
A retrospective look at one of my coaches brings very important points to mind about leadership. Yes, he had a vision for our team. He was interested in our performance and wanted us to excel at our event, whether it was track or field events. He kept us aware of our performance against our previous results or times, but he was more than a timekeeper. Based on the situation, he was a:
- A teacher – coach, counselor
- A personal trainer – nutrition & condition
- A strategist
- A mentor and confidante
He had a holistic approach to athletics, addressing performance and the entire person. He knew academic and social matters could distract us and interfere with our performance against our individual and team objectives. So he preached balance and sound judgment in juggling our affairs. He was not a psychologist, but he used psychology to challenge us to make the right decisions and to conduct ourselves professionally, on and off the track.
Before each race, he decided which players would compete in various events. He wanted us to know our roles and his expectations. Sometimes he could not use everyone, but ensured that everyone was prepared, in case they were needed. He wanted to choose the strongest team, with the best chance to win the competition. This involved managing the egos and feelings of those who did not get in the race. His selection process was based on natural ability and performance during the practices. He knew that excellent practices had a high correlation to an excellent result on the track. This also applies to how we function on many of our projects in the workforce.
The selected team members were spoken to collectively and individually to assess and discuss:
- Level of commitment
- Goals and the times we were shooting for
- His expectations and confidence in our abilities
- Leaving everything on the track, to give our very best and therefore have no regrets
- Blocking out distractions and focusing on the event
- Finishing strong after a torrid pace
During the actual competition, he stood at strategic locations along the track and shouted out times, but he also:
- Stated progress toward the goal
- Gave feedback on the location of the competition
- Reminded everyone of their commitment
- Shouted encouraging words, such as, “looking good, nice pace, you can do it, go get them, pass the next guy”
- The number of laps left in the race
Our role as leaders, coaches and managers are similar. We state our vision for the team and each person. But we are more than a timekeeper. We have a role and responsibility before the race to choose the right team to put on the track. Before the race we must people are in condition, which includes ensuring that the team is well trained. We are concerned with healthy practices that go beyond the intake of the right foods and exercise to include what is read, watched, experienced, and heard by listening to the right people and development plans. And during the competition we must set up at strategic positions along the path to shout out progress (times), words of encouragement and the location of the competition.
We are consumed with evaluation measures of productivity. We are a performance driven culture and have developed excellent indicators to mark our progress toward our goals. Exposure to our teams, whether at meetings, on teleconferences, office visits, on the plant floor or in written and verbal communications gives us the opportunity to discuss more than just numbers.
We need to avoid the emphasis on productivity that disregards the individual as a person. When this attitude permeates a sports team, players say they understand it is just a business. When it happens in business employees say it is just a game. People may become dispassionate and lose some of their fire and engagement for their roles and the goals.
Results and statistics are important. They are the reason we are in leadership position within our fields. But we must not allow the pursuit of the results to disconnect us from the people and the purpose and soul of their work. Remember, we are more than a timekeeper.
Copyright © 2009 Orlando Ceaser