This post might feel a little preach-y. It’s not supposed to. Or maybe it is. I don’t know. What I do know is that the idea of Leadership is one that’s been on my mind lately. Or for the last year. Or really, if I’m going to be perfectly honest, for forever. Recently, a few things have made me think about what makes a good leader and how we can all exhibit those qualities in our day to day actions.
“The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” ― Colin Powell
When I was in high school, I thought a lot what it meant to be a “good” leader. Typically, I was thinking about sports and I was usually concerned with what a team captain was expected to do. I was given the responsibility of being captain of two teams – I was named Varsity Captain as a junior of both the volleyball and basketball teams, and maintained that role as a senior. Every team I played on had a different dynamic and vastly different personalities, which meant having to learn how to communicate differently. Learning what each of my teammates would best respond to and understanding that not everyone is motivated by the same thing.
I’m not sure that I was ever wholly successful as a team captain, but I did learn a lot, and since then, I’ve also come to realize that the teams I played on served as microcosms of real life.
The skills I learned on the court have found their way into my life on more than one occasion, but as of late, it is those leadership skills I’ve come to value most. So, I came up with a list that I think illustrates my point:
Lead by example: If you work hard, leave it all on the court and keep the bullshit out of the gym, the team can, too.
Respect: For your teammates and your coach – a team can’t function cohesively if there isn’t mutual respect for everyone’s abilities and differences. You don’t always have to agree, but you should always treat each other with respect.
Take the high road: Sometimes, you end up with a team that just can’t get along. Sometimes, people are real poop-nuggets. They can make everything the worst. A good leader doesn’t let their teammates’ negativity dictate their own actions. They choose optimism.
Listen: To the coach and to the team. If things aren’t going well, take the water temperature – not only does it give you the chance to find the root issues, it also shows your teammates that you care about their concerns. As I heard recently: “God gave me two ears and one mouth, and I should use them proportionally.”
Be proactive, not reactive: During a game, things don’t always go the way you plan – someone could get injured or foul out and suddenly your team looks different. The best way to move forward and win? Regroup, assess, and keep doing your jobs. A reactionary response is almost always shortsighted and rarely serves the good of the team. Keep playing to win, don’t play not to lose.
Recognize your team’s talent, and let them use it: The team captain isn’t always the best player. An effective captain not only knows this, but also isn’t bothered by letting their teammates shine. They are assets – allow them to utilize their skill sets and foster their confidence. Empower them to push the envelope and develop as players. Everyone benefits when we’re all allowed the room to do our best.
Talk to your teammates, not at them: This goes back to the “listen” thing – you have to learn how to engage in a productive dialogue with your team. Know your audience and tailor your message to them. Some people don’t respond to certain things. Honor that, and them, and do a little extra work to find what does work for the both of you.
Be honest, kind, courageous and fair: You might be the captain, but that doesn’t put you above your teammates on a human level. Remember that. Be decent, always.
We find ourselves on “teams” all the time – we live in community with one another, pretending that we exist outside of that is to deny our place in the world. To lead is to take on responsibility and to lead well is to care, immensely, for the well-being and success of the team and to recognize the responsibility to ensure that success.
“It’s time to care; it’s time to take responsibility; it’s time to lead; it’s time for a change; it’s time to be true to our greatest self; it’s time to stop blaming others.” – Steve Maraboli