Leading from the Front: Leadership tips from the sporting field

In my experience, there are two types of people – those who want to succeed and those who hope to succeed.  Over the years, a lot of athletes have started our work together thinking they don’t need to work on the mental side of their game, hoping that it will happen, only to realise that they have neglected their biggest asset because they have not been able to see the performance potential that is available to them.  So how do you realise that untapped potential in different areas of life?  The key is to be intentional.

The development of leadership skills is one area that is often neglected until crisis is reached.  Everyone has the opportunity to be a leader, in sport, at work, at home, in their field of business…

The key to intentionally being a successful leader is self-awareness, recognising your preferred style and being able to adapt to changing environments and situations.

Daniel Goleman describes six types of leadership styles that are often seen in sport and business contexts.

The coercive style demands immediate obedience and comes naturally to those who are driven to achieve, take initiative and have self-control. This style is best used in crisis situations because it instils confidence and can shock people into action.  However, it inspires a passive response from followers and may lessen their motivation.

The authoritative style is characterised by a clear vision that comes from the leader who then inspires his or her followers to catch the vision and come along on the journey to fulfilling the vision.  Leaders strong in this style tend to be self-confident and good at communicating empathy.  It is best used in cases where clear direction is needed, for example, with inexperienced followers, however, more experienced people may feel restricted under this leadership style.

The affiliative leadership style puts people first and leaders strong in this style value relationships, empathy and clear communication.  This style can be used to bring teams together, particularly after a period of conflict, however, it tends to focus on strengths and ignore weaknesses and poor behaviour, leading to possible anarchy.

The democratic style encourages collaboration between all members of the team and increases motivation as all have a chance to buy into the group’s ideas.  The weakness of this style is that it lacks firm leadership and may be ineffective if there is a lack of expertise in the group.  Leaders who are driven to achieve and like to work hard and fast tend to use a pacesetting style and can get fast results from their team.  However, their leadership style may be resented as they have a tendency to take over and micromanage their teams.

Finally, the coaching style focuses on developing the team’s skills for the future, and is the natural tendency of leaders who value developing others, empathy and are self-aware.  This style is effective in supporting long-term development but is not effective when team members are resistant to change.

If all six styles have strengths and weaknesses, which style is best?  The answer may surprise you.  In the short-term, all styles are effective.  Long-term, the pace-setting and coercive styles produce negative outcomes, whilst the others produce positive outcomes.  While no one style is correct, self-awareness and self-development is key.  Effective leaders learn how to use different styles in different situations based on what is needed from their team, not what comes naturally.  The wider the variety of styles a leader is able to utilise, the more able he or she is to motivate those they work with and alongside.

The final skill good leaders need to be effective, both on and off the sporting field, is effective recovery.  When athletes do strength training to get bigger and stronger, their training causes small tears in their muscles.  During recovery after training, the body works hard to repair these tears, causing creation of new muscle fibres to compensate for the damage.  Therefore, most growth happens during the recovery phase.  Similarly, recovery is necessary for effective personal growth and development.  Recovery involves taking time off to get away from the office or work environment and switching off work-related thoughts (and switching off all devices!) and doing something enjoyable such as exercise, socialising or a hobby, to give your brain something different to think about.

Be intentional, be aware, be successful!

Book an appointment to build your leadership skills at Queensland Sports Medicine Centre or Allsports Physiotherapy & Sports Medicine.