Who are the best leaders you have ever been around?  What are the things that they do?  We all talk about leadership with our teams all of the time, but it’s important to define the values we want in behavioral terms.  These are the characteristics of the best leaders I’ve coached.

Great leaders…

Do not see leadership as a rank.  They don’t want to be captain because it gives them stature.  They see leadership as a skill, a way of being that can help the team.  They aren’t in it to be recognized.

Take ownership before they critique.  Taking responsibility for a failure within the team is often the best way to get a critical message across.  Great leaders recognize that assigning blame isn’t going to help the team as much as collective responsibility.  If you are the leader of a team you are a big part of whatever is going wrong.

Give the people around them confidence.    They recognize the players who are a little unsure of themselves, and they know how to lift them up.  They make the people around them feel good about themselves.  It can be in the way they talk to them, or how they listen to them, but they come across with a positive vibe.  The best leaders make everyone around them better.

Are willing to handle confrontation.  Confrontation is an essential aspect of leadership.  The best leaders I’ve coached are strong enough and confident enough to handle confrontation when it arises.  They lead without fear of confrontation.  It’s an inevitable component in the growth of successful teams.

Know when to stop the fight.  Their comes a point when a confrontation becomes counterproductive, and leaders recognize this.  It’s ok to disagree and sometimes it may get a little hot.  But at some point trying to be right can make your leadership ineffective.  It’s more important to win than be right.  Great leaders know when to kill an issue.

Are comfortable around people who are different.  The best leaders I’ve coached usually have some friends who are different than they are.  They aren’t afraid to have conversations with people they don’t know.  You see them on campus hanging out with a different group of people.   As a leader, you have to be able to connect with people from all different backgrounds on your team.  The best leaders are comfortable around everyone.

Are accessible to everyone in the locker room.   They don’t just hang around in a core group with the starters or the veterans.  They connect with the freshman who is quiet and maybe a little bit different.  They are tight with teammates from completely different backgrounds.  They promote an accessibility that makes others comfortable with them.

Don’t have to be the loudest guy in the room.  Being a great leader isn’t about being seen or being recognized.  They don’t have to be the guy standing in the middle of the locker room speaking up so that everyone notices them.  They are quietly comfortable with the impact they can have in many different ways.

Listen and process information before talking.  They don’t have to shout down their teammates to get a message across.  They are willing to hear the other side, and think about what is being said.  They don’t have to prove they are the dominant voice to make sure teammates are on their side.

Advance the message of the team.  In the locker room, when the coaches aren’t around, they are talking about what is in the best interests of the team.  They aren’t buying in to or allowing the negative talk that can creep into a locker room – they don’t talk about how tough things are, or if things are unfair.  They squash that talk quickly and advance a the team message.

Understand and are willing to sacrifice.  They realize they have to give certain things up to be great, whether that is on the floor or off.  They think about what’s best for the team before they think about what’s best for themselves.

Do not have to be liked by everyone.  It’s great if everyone in the locker room likes each other, but it’s not always realistic.  My best leaders realize that everyone might not like them, and that’s OK to them.  That can be difficult for a person to accept.  But best leaders are advancing the team’s message first, and aren’t as concerned with who likes them and who doesn’t.

Speak up.  The best leaders don’t wonder if it’s their time or place.  They don’t think about if they have enough credibility in the locker room.  They aren’t worried about how they are going to be received.  When they feel a certain way about an important topic, they speak up.  They are confident enough to deal with the reaction.

Earn respect through their actions.  They keep their side of the street clean.  They don’t earn respect by what they say.  They are known by their deeds.  Their teammates see how they operate every day and want to learn from them and follow their lead.


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