Growing up and then into adulthood I have been heavily involved in a wide variety of sports as an athlete, official, and coach. What I have noticed as I transitioned from being part of these recreational endeavors to my career is that the same general principles apply ion both worlds. In short, a coach is a coach and a team is a team, regardless of the environment.
I tend to think of leadership in terms of appropriately coaching and guiding those to whom you are accountable (and I believe it is critical that leaders recognize that they are accountable to the people that follow them!). On the football field, for example, the coach is the individual who creates the vision and the energy that is designed to encourage successful outcomes from the players. While the coach can, and does, draw up dozens of plays, and even select the one at any given point in time that he thinks is most likely to lead to a positive outcome, ultimately the best/most the coach can do is stand back and watch from the sidelines and hope that the guidance and direction he has imparted on the players was enough to ensure that they will work together effectively and be able to carry out their assignments. As I recently heard a college player say during an interview about his coach, “we have a great deal of respect for…but when it comes right down to it, he can’t make us win. We [the players] are the ones who have to make the plays on the field.” Is this in any way different from the skilled leader in an organization? As a leader, one of the most important roles that you perform is to provide a mission and an overarching strategy and then provide ample direction and appropriate coaching to hopefully ensure that your planned goals will be achieved. Sometimes you work with the entire team, at other points you may find yourself one-on-one with a single team member helping refine their goals and methods for reaching them. In the end though, you must stand on the sideline and trust that teaching/coaching you have done will be enough to make each of the players be successful so that the team, as a whole, can also achieve. A fine analogy to sports.
In sports a team consists of a group of individual who have been selected and organized based on their combined talents to maximize the likelihood that they will be successful. At work, as experienced leaders, we endeavor to do exactly the same thing. As we learn the strengths and knowledge base of each of our staff members, we arrange them in various constellations depending on the needs of a project or series of tasks. I think the comparison can be carried further than this though. First and foremost, leaders and teams must develop trusting relationships such that leaders feel comfortable that when they give direction, team members are going to do their part to follow through and give their best effort. Again, the environment is irrelevant. Within teams, ‘players’ must also be able to recognize their own and others’ skills so that they can efficiently take advantage of the (human) resources/assets that are available to the team. We can often see similarities in the types of roles played out in the sports world as in the business world. Going back to football for a minute, the quarterback is a key player on the team. He is responsible for clearly translating what the leader expects, communicating that to the team, and being the ‘operational manager’ of the team. Throughout our organizations we see people in a similar role. They work directly with the highest level of executive staff and then translate the organization’s goals to staff while trying to provide ample feedback and strategic planning for achieving them. Oftentimes when the team has a less-than-stellar quarterback, the team falters. Similarly, when an organization is lacking strong management staff that are capable of high quality communication, teams are inefficient and falter.
As coaches and leaders we must remember that our success is a direct reflection of the success of our teams. One of my favorite coaches and motivators of all time is former Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi. Here are just a few of his thoughts that I would like to leave you with:
- The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.
- People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.
- Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.
- Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.