Leader of the Pack

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Many people maintain the idea that leadership skills in sport are only required for owners, general managers, coaches, parents, or team captains.  However, leadership can (and should) show itself in many different ways and situations, as well as from a number of  different individuals from the top of an organization all the way down to the “rookie” or “towel boy”.  A few common ideals that great leaders tend to portray are…

1)      Great leaders unite people to work toward a common goal.

Does this mean the common goal or mission is determined completely by the leader and enforced by the leader alone? Absolutely not!  However, great leaders are those individuals who maintain the vision and passion to drive individuals toward the mission regardless of the ebbs, flows, and potential disasters of a long season.

2)      Great leaders handle and manage adversity in times of difficulty.

In short, effective leaders are self-aware.  Many people get caught up in the drama and emotions that come with the struggles of life in and out of sport.  On the other hand, great leaders manage their own thoughts, feelings, and actions before making any immediate judgments or decisions that will affect the team poorly in the long run.

3)      Great leaders manage conflict.

No two people are exactly the same.  Differences can create conflict.  An effective leader is someone who has strong negotiation skills to balance individual differences, allow all parties to feel heard, and finally establish a mutually agreeable resolution so all parties can move forward with a common goal in mind (see #1).

4)      Great leaders communicate consistently, frequently, and honestly in both word and action.

We all have different styles of verbal and non-verbal communication. Effective leaders are aware of their personal style and maintain consistency in the messages they send from the beginning of the season to the end.  The frequency of communication should also occur along the same lines.  Being a great leader doesn’t mean the individual should speak so frequently that no other voices or opinions are heard.  To the contrary, effective leaders are confident in their decisions, but sometimes do so by asking for help or guidance from others who may have a better pulse on the situation.  The frequency of communication should be enough to keep all parties informed, while also maintaining the feeling of trust and autonomy from those around him or her.  Honesty may be the most integral part of leadership.  In order to gain the acceptance, trust, and power to motivate any group of individuals, honesty must be at the forefront of any communication given to avoid potential contention or doubt within the group.

5)      Great leaders know when to stretch and when to support those around them.

Individuals thrive when they are challenged enough to extend outside of their individual “comfort zone”, but also know there is consistent support immediately following in case of emergency.  Effective leaders empower individuals by constantly being aware of when and how to stretch others while also having a heightened sense of when to come back to play a supporting role.

Great leadership can be found within all of us. The most effective leaders, however, are the individuals who make it a priority and continually work on improving these five ideals to separate themselves from everyone else who follows.  If you have the will and courage to become a leader within your team, there is no better time than now to start developing your role.

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