All sports clubs and teams need leaders. In this document I highlight some of the important attributes that go into producing a good leader. Although the article is written in the context of sport, the advice can be applied to any leader in any field of work.
Have a team vision
Leaders should have a clear vision of what they want their team to achieve. Direction is one of the biggest predictors of success, which is why it is imperative that the leader has a clear vision of what the team is aiming for.
Not only must there be an awareness of this common goal but it must also be shared and agreed upon with the other members of the team.
It is advisable that group meetings are conducted in which the leader consults with their team staff and players, allowing the construction of the collective goal.
More can be read about the process of goal-setting here.
Take time to understand all of your team members
Understanding that every team member is different is one of the most important aspects of being an effective leader.
Coaching styles often need to be personally built and tailored to the individual.
If the leader’s advice is found to be useful by one of their athletes, it is wrong to assume that this advice will help everyone in the same way.
Everyone is different and it is important that the leader is always aware of this.
The leader should try to spend extra time outside of training hours to really get to know their team members. During this time the leader is able to establish a clear understanding of what each team member needs personally and professionally in order to get the best out of them.
Many successful leaders use psychometric tests to help them to gain a better picture of their team members.
Psychometric tests are specially designed questionnaires that help gather detailed information about an individual’s psychological makeup.
Common constructs that are measured by these tests are confidence levels, personality types, decision making styles, focus, motivation and intelligence.
The more information that can be collected about each member of the team, the better equipped the leader is to deliver coaching that meets their needs and demands.
Be a model and set the standard
Whatever it is that the leader wants to install within the team's mentality, one must make sure that they hold all these desired qualities. Whether it is a keen work rate, a high level of communication, passion, or even supreme levels confidence the leader must portray all of these characteristics first.
In team environments individuals often learn through example, which is why the leader needs to lead from the front and display the desired characteristics
Fire your team up
All effective leaders are able to fire up their team. Professional sport is full of ebbs and flows, and it is during times of set backs and difficulties that the leader needs to inspire and reinvigorate the team.
During hard times team and individual meetings need to be predominantly designed to inspire and motivate the team members. Leaders need to be able re establish the team’s goals through the use of effective and convincing language. By persuading the team to buy back into the unit’s sense of purpose and direction feelings of passion and motivation will return.
Be firm but fair
It is important that the leader instils a sense of discipline within their team. If they are too lenient, their athletes may begin to take advantage of this.
When athletes undermine the position of the leader, it is likely that other athletes will follow suit. Although it is important to treat team-members as equals, the leader must also remember to keep their distance in order to preserve an authoritative presence.
It is the hallmark of a truly exceptional leader if they can maintain a balance between treating team-members as equals, and remaining professionally detached.
No leader in the world is perfect. Successful leaders are honest with themselves and have an awareness of where their strengths and weaknesses lie.
Consequently effective leaders make sure that they surround themselves with staff members that compensate for these weak attributes, working to build a team that covers all bases.
Treat them as you would treat your family
Some of the strongest team units in professional sport are so because of their familial bond towards one another. Leaders should try and develop a real sense of care and responsibility for all of their team members.
This will make sure that the leader’s actions are in the best interests of the team, helping to create a tightly knit team unit.
Don’t over encourage
Most leaders recognise the importance of encouraging and praising their team members. However encouragement and praise can be over used. Words begin to lose their value when compliments are given away without any real thought.
The use of language as a tool to inspire and motivate is very important. Leaders do not want to cheapen the power of their compliments by over using them.
Leaders should reserve the use of praise and encouragement for truly deserved times. Consequently any praise that is given out to the team will be more valuable.
If your goal is to use encouragement as a strategy to improve confidence, please review Mindsport's article on confidence building.
Holding team meals is an important act to gel and pull the team together. This suggestion fits in well with the piece of advice that expresses the importance of building a familial bond within the team.
Spending communal time together including eating and drinking together builds a deep rooted commitment between the team members. It is also a welcomed opportunity for the team to relax, unwind and take their mind off work.
Leaders should create ample opportunities for the team to be able have meals together. Pre match meals and meals after training are advised.
Operant conditioning is a well researched and popular topic in classical psychology.
It is a technique that is used to aid the acquisition of certain behaviours. By punishing unsuccessful behaviour and rewarding successful behaviour, one can train the mind and body to automatically produce a desired response.
Leaders should reinforce the successful behaviours of their athletes with small rewards, while lightly punishing poor and unproductive behaviour.
If the leader chooses to introduce the use of operant conditioning within their team, over time they will find that team members will become more attuned to doing the right thing.
Setting rewards and punishments in your team environment can be a creative process. Here are some suggestions:
- Extra training
- Cleaning out the changing rooms
- Cold showers
- Days off
- Special team vacations for meeting collective targets
- Special meals after good training sessions and competitive performances
- Individual prizes and bonuses for producing exceptional performances