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Eight Guidelines for Developing High-Performing Team Leaders

by Cory Dobbs, Ed.D. The Academy for Sport Leadership

We live in the age of leadership. Leadership may be the most important topic for organizational success in today's chaotic world. Leadership programs and courses continue to grow on many college and university campuses. And across the U.S. schools are finding ways to include leadership as a part of the high school curriculum. This emphasis suggests that those individuals that are prepared to lead self, lead with others, and lead others, will be the influential members of our society.

After extensive research I've found that most coaches adopt one of three basic approaches to leadership development of student-athletes. The first approach is to do nothing, a hands-off approach. Obviously little leadership is expected from the ill-prepared leader that emerges under this approach. The second, and perhaps the approach most coaches use, is the happenstance approach in which student-athletes learn to lead by chance. This method of developing leaders is what I refer to as the "putting out fires" approach. It is reactive and leaves learning to lead to chance-rolling the dice if you will. The final approach is to develop a deliberate learning agenda. Far too few coaches enter each season (and off-season) with a well-developed learning agenda for developing team leaders.

To help you focus your efforts here are eight guidelines for creating an action-oriented leadership development program.

Guideline 1: Have a Defined Learning Agenda

Key Question, do you have a defined learning agenda for your team leaders? If not, why? How much more might your team leaders learn with a clear picture of the learning necessary to be an effective leader. Leadership development in the student-athletic environment should have a practical and an intellectual goal. The presence of a learning agenda will lead to more action.

Guideline 2: Doing and Teaching Leads to Knowing

Mission, vision, and strategy are beneficial only to the extent that they foster leadership action. Your team's future is uncertain, but the purpose need not be. Student-athletics is about learning. Action helps team leaders create knowledge where there once was uncertainty. Cultivate an environment of experimentation, action, and the pursuit of more knowledge.

Guideline 3: Ready, Fire, Aim!

One of the key lessons of action-oriented learning by doing is that of ready, fire, aim. Acting in the face of uncertainty provides team leaders with information for future action rather than acting based on hunches and habit. Structured reflection promotes enhanced learning.

Guideline 4: No Guts, No Results

An absence of risk-taking and mistakes will lead to failure. The path to becoming an effective team captain is through experimentation and action. You and your team leaders will benefit by building an action culture based on learning from mistakes and failures.

Guideline 5: Fear Creates Rigidity

Rigidity means an absence of action and makes change a difficult proposition. Cultivate an environment of leadership opportunity. This can only be done by engaging team leaders in an inspirational mission and vision and helping them to take action physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially. The mission and vision should be future focused-this season and all of life's future challenges.

Guideline 6: Become a Trust Builder

Low-trust environments breed poor relationships. Poor relationships lead to a dysfunctional team environment. Apathy, backbiting, and disloyalty are a part of a low-trust team. Trust is a calculated risk-team members should give trust to one another and continue to work to build an environment of trust.

Guideline 7: Co-opetition (Skillfully blending cooperation and competition)

Team leaders need to be aware of the dominant team building processes of cooperation and competition. Both, cooperation and competition can be healthy and functional or unhealthy and dysfunctional. Effective team leaders need to know the differences and how to help shape cooperation and competition among team members.

Guideline 8: Coaches Need to Walk the Talk

Values that are not acted upon are not shared or followed. What the team leader acts upon will be shared, repeated, followed, and imitated. Coaches need to model the leadership development process they want their team leaders to learn. Developing a learning agenda is necessary for your team leaders to deliberately learn. You too should have a learning agenda.

Just one hour a week can make a huge difference. When you make a commitment to spend this hour every week improving and integrating Team Leadership you'll get results. It's not easy-it takes discipline to integrate this into the fabric and fiber of your team and team leaders. With steel-willed discipline and determination you'll quickly see the difference between mediocrity and greatness in your team leaders.

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