Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Leader or Follower?

If you play a team sport, especially as you get older, every player is either a leader or a follower. Every team needs a couple of leaders and the others need to understand that they are followers. But you can’t have too many leaders or the absence of a leader. 

While there are a number of reasons for underachieving teams – not enough talent, lack of focus, poor practices – the absence of a clear cut leader is a big one. 

Before describing a leader, let me point out that it is alright to be a follower. A follower knows their role, knows what is expected of them and performs their tasks to the best of their ability. 

What are the three main characteristics of a leader? 

The most important is respected. You can try to be a leader, but if nobody is willing to follow you, you are only leading yourself. The other players on the team have to look up to the leader.

A leader has to be skilled. In the realm of athletics, it is difficult for a player standing on the side line to be followed. Fair or unfair, the players that end up as leaders on a team are usually some of the best. 

Finally, a leader separates friendships on and off the field (a follower has to do the same). If a teammate is having a bad day or doesn’t seem to be focused or isn’t performing the right drills, one of the jobs of a leader is to step in and let the teammate know. 

There are really three types of leaders – those who are vocal, those who lead by example and those who try to lead but are not followed. 

A vocal leader is the voice of the team. They let people know when they do things wrong and, more importantly, are the first to praise a teammate for performing well. 

A leader by example doesn’t necessarily say much – though it is possible to lead by example and vocally. An example leader gives 100 percent at every practice, game, conditioning sessions, film session or whatever else may encompass that particular sport. They are usually pretty good at their position. Others see how hard they work and want to either duplicate the leader’s hard work or impress the leader with their own work ethic. 

There are also leaders who lead themselves. They want to be a leader, they want to say the right things and do the right things, but in the end, their teammates don’t have the necessary respect for them. You can’t be a leader if you turn around and nobody is following you. 

Leaders without followers usually develop from a combination of the other two types of leaders. There are players who try to lead but simply aren’t good enough to find the field. There are players who give the impression that they aren’t giving the maximum effort on every play. There are players who want to be vocal, but are only degrading and negative. Not only do you end up alienating your teammates, but you don’t find many friends off the field either. 

A leader is accountable for not only their individual success, but also that of the team. They act as the coach on the field and help their teammates do whatever it takes to win. They always give their best effort, never complain about practice and are willing to listen to coaches and other teammates. They follow any team rules, are always on time and always do the right thing, whether or not a coach is around. 

Being a leader carries a responsibility, not just to you, but also to your teammates, coaches and fans. Not everyone is cut out to be a leader. And that is quite alright.

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