It’s pretty much accepted wisdom that you have to be a good player to be a leader. Seems like any leadership conversation you have the talk is if a guy isn’t a starter or one of your best players, it’s going to be hard for him to be an effective leader. I’m not sure why we accept this.
I’m not saying I disagree with the general point. It is easier for someone to lead from a position of strength and respect. The better players on your team have strength and respect. But leadership on high-performing teams isn’t necessarily easy. If we accept the premise that your leaders have to be your better performers, we are losing sight of what leadership is really about. It’s not about talent. It’s a skill, something that can be taught and developed. It’s not about the ability to perform.
We all have players on our teams who are great kids, who define everything we want in a leader, and who have natural leadership skills, but don’t necessarily lead because they “aren’t good enough.” And I think we are leaving a lot of important leadership on the table. When I talk to coaches whose teams are struggling, invariably they bring up the fact that they don’t have the right leadership. Maybe that’s because their better players aren’t great leaders. If it so happens that your better players aren’t great leaders, what are you supposed to do for leadership? If only your better players have the power to lead your team’s success is at the mercy of the balance you have between leadership and talent.
You have the best feel for the leadership on your team. You have the clearest picture of who the strongest leaders are and how they can help. The leadership on your team needs to be empowered. If your players look at leadership through a talent lens, you have to show them where the true leadership lies on your team. You can find the guys that have the natural ability and empower them to be the heartbeat of your team.
A big part of getting a leadership message across is how the message is received. If your team doesn’t respect the messenger or won’t listen to the message, there is no impact. But if the message being sent is the right one, and the players on your team disregard it, the problem isn’t with the messenger, it is with the rest of the team. If your team won’t listen to the right message it’s your responsibility to try and make that happen.
Confrontation is often a necessary part of leadership, and you have to be comfortable with that. If you have back-ups or walk-ons who aren’t your front line players but have the right leadership approach, they may not be accepted by the rest of your players as leaders. Not that they’ll be disrespected, just that the message won’t carry much weight. Teammates may blow them off or strike back with a response. Your job as the head coach is to make sure there is room in your gym for the right leadership, no matter who it comes from. Even if your players get annoyed by it or don’t want to listen to it because it’s not coming from the right source (in their mind), if it’s the right message you need to make sure it’s heard.
I’ll bet your team has guys with natural leadership ability who bring the right approach every day but aren’t comfortable stepping up. They don’t feel it’s there place. I know my team has those guys. Does it make sense to let your team suppress that leadership because those guys don’t happen to be the best players? You are burying a natural resource that can help your team win if you let that happen.
Figure out where the natural leadership on your team is and empower it. That involves the leaders as well of the rest of the team. Those who can need to know you support them in delivering the message. And the team needs to understand if it’s the right message it doesn’t matter who it is coming from. If there is some confrontation there, that’s okay, you need to deal with it. The right message needs to be heard, regardless of the talent level of the messenger.
Why should your team be comfortable disregarding the right leadership message because they think it’s coming from the wrong source? I’ll bet you can find the right leadership on your team if you are willing to empower it.