If I had to sum up any sort of “leadership style” I accidentally strive to follow, it would be these two: service leadership & leading from the front. I don’t read a lot of books on leadership surprisingly. I don’t “study it” like I probably should. I just started reading The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership by Bill Walsh when it struck me that this was likely one of the first handful of leadership focused books I’ve read. I do truly believe it’s important to study the lessons of those who came before you but I also am a firm believer that the solutions lie within the team you are leading if you know how to draw solutions out and encourage an environment of experimentation.
I picked up pinnies (didn’t know this is how you spelled it?), the cones, and the extra soccer balls when I was captain of my highschool team two years in a row. This led to the entire team naturally helping out by the time the season ended rather than just the freshmen who were, in previous years, stuck with this duty. I led by example in every aspect I could whether it was related to school work or something on the field. I made it clear I cared and made the effort to get to know my team. I called people out when I knew they could do better and I offered genuine praise when things went well. It was important people knew I believed in them AND saw their hard work in their finest moments.
One of my favorite soccer coaches never made us do fitness work. He built it into our practice naturally. He created situations for us to push ourselves rather than having to artificially. It was incredible and one of the greatest lessons of leadership in my mind – creating the things you want to teach naturally into everyday work. I think about this often as a team lead. How can I foster experimentation? How can I foster a desire to learn new products and to work across queues? How can I encourage going the extra mile for those who trust us with their websites? How can I reinforce how much potential we have? This coach was incredible at building in the lessons he wanted us to learn and the habits he wanted us to build. It worked. I never ran harder or was more exhausted yet excited than after his practices.
Another favorite coach taught me the lesson of accountability and believing in someone before they believe in themselves. He lived this out when he yelled “not good enough!” when I was lazy or sloppy on the field. He also lived this out when he snagged me after a game giving me a comprehensive overview of how I’ve improved and painted a picture of how much more I could do for the team. He believed in me and he made me feel it. I never questioned when I stepped on or off the field that he was trusting me to carry his vision through. I never questioned that he would call me out if I failed to fulfill it.
I’ve also had my fair share of bad coaches and captains who didn’t care enough to do the hard work. The ones who picked favorites and only created Plan A rather than figuring out Plan C well in advance. The ones who didn’t rotate substitutes and let half the team grow while the other half stagnated. The ones who didn’t know when to demand more or when to encourage. I learned just as much from them as I did from the great ones.
I guess this is why I haven’t invested in leadership books – I’ve been living the lessons through sports for most of my 23 years. Now that I’m not playing competitively in any aspect beyond just pick up games here and there, I’m curious to see what I’ll learn in the plethora of books that exist out in the world. For now, I’m having fun with the challenge of figuring out how best to lead a team especially one that encompasses different cultures and timezones. Personally, I’ve been working on emulating the ones that I’ve always respected the most – the ones that lead from the front and that care so very deeply simply because they believe in the potential of the team they are in charge of.