What comes to mind when you think of leadership? What feelings do you have when you think of yourself as a leader? If you’re thinking “how me, I don’t have leadership qualities”. Why NOT you?
As we’ve seen in the successful teams, leadership within the athletic and performance setting (or any environment) is pivotal in inspiring team confidence, cohesion, identification, and efficacy.
The notion of leadership is trending, but our understanding of what leadership is outdated. Leadership has evolved into something that we view as being more than us, beyond our grasp, and better than us. Maybe someday it’s something we will achieve and we will have finally reached the right amount of confidence, power, intelligence, or connection, but not now. We may think we couldn’t possibly be leaders now. Our notions of leadership take away from the actions we do every single day that impact others. We overlook how we can show up to be leaders every day through those little behaviors, thoughts, or actions, that are actually GIANT.
What comes to mind when you think of leadership on a team? When you think about a team captain? When we shift the focus to athletics, we’re often under the impression that the team captains hold the all-encompassing leadership roles within a team. They acquire the typical leadership qualities and are thought to single handedly lead the team through every up and down, twist and turn.
Continuing research (to get fancy), however, suggests that the team captain is not the most important leader, nor the most effective in each domain of performance. It is unlikely that a single leader, or a team captain can effectively engage in the necessary, all encompassing roles of a successful leader. Think about the coaches, teachers, trainers, and team captains you have had. What were they great at? What made them good? Now, in what areas were they lacking? Maybe it was a certain subject, drill, providing needed support, providing motivation and commitment, creating energy, connecting with the entirety of the team, or handling conflict.
Within athletics, groups, and the corporate world, we elect leaders that we think will be successful. With one, all encompassing leader, however, we miss the necessary components of leadership that grasp the entirety of the needs of our teams. Research (again, fancy) and leadership implementation is expanding beyond the idea of one traditional leader that inspires and transforms the team to a shared leadership that is spread throughout the team and it’s players.
Rather than having one formal, prominent leader on the team that encompasses the various components of a successful leader, recognizing and developing shared leadership within a team where each athlete collectively enacts a leadership role unique to THEIR strengths is associated with optimal functioning. Within the multiple leadership roles, having role clarity within athletes, teammates, and performers is also a functional component to being an effective team.
These shared leader developments create “informal” leaders (leaders without a formal title) that take the roles of task leaders, motivational leaders, social leaders, and external leaders, based on the strengths of each individual. Take a moment and reflect on yourself as an athlete, a teammate, a friend. Where, and in what situations do you feel best? Where do you shine? What do you value in yourself and your personality? How do you express those values and strengths through you behaviors? How do you interact with others? In what ways do those behaviors and strengths represent a leadership role? It might not be what we’ve been taught as ‘traditional’ leadership role. It might look different, but a leadership role in all the same. We often devalue our little actions every day that make an impact in our lives, our teammates lives, and our surrounding environment. AKA, being a leader.
- Jennifer Simmons
University of Denver MA Sport and Performance Psychology '19
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