I have never really had any father to emulate nor a family that could guide me. Many would say that I was all alone and would never be a leader type because I never had any role models growing up. Yet I beg to differ from the public stereotype of leadership role models because even given my difficult situation growing up I did find a leadership role model, my coach. While this may not seem to be a conventional choice for most people, I firmly believe that it was because of my basketball coach that I have developed the leadership skills I have today and have become a leader myself.
Before I relate why I think my basketball coach is the best leadership role model that I have had in my life, albeit arguably inexperienced, I feel that it is important for me to discuss just what I think a leader is and should be.
Great leaders have been said to be catalysts of change because of their ability to motivate, to inspire and to make any group of individuals act as a cohesive working unit (House, 2004). While there are those who argue that a leader must always make waves in order to make a definite impact in any working environment, it has also been shown that an effective leader must be able to contextualize his actions and understand what the best course is given the environment he is working in (Warneka, 2006).
Coach Smith, as we used to call him, was that type of leader. He never insisted on making waves but addressed the needs of the players and motivated every single one of us. Superstar egos on the team were shelved and the goals of the team always came first before personal glory. At the same time however, he made the person who contributed to the success of the team feel and know that it was his great performance which made a difference and in doing so inspired that person to work harder, not only for the good of the team but for himself as well.
This leadership style employed by Coach Smith is also quite similar to another great leader who achieved impressive results, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines, the company he created, consistently fared better than its competitors, surviving the tough times for the aviation industry. One of the secrets to the company’s success is its unique culture that differentiates it from its competitors. At Southwest, there is a great emphasis on the people aspect of the business. In fact, Herb Kelleher in an interview with Babson Insight vividly demonstrated his commitment to the staff of the company by calling them People – in this way, written with a capital letter (Herb Kelleher, 2004).
Coach Smith empowered people. He never sought to tow people in line and force them to do their bidding. In a way he inspired me and the other members on the team to do better, much like Kelleher who made people feel that they played a major role in the success of the company. This quiet but inspiring leadership style proved to very effective as our team won the local tournament.
I realize know just how pivotal his leadership methods were for our team. A leader does not necessarily have to make waves in order to make to facilitate change. There are many types of leadership styles that do not call for the application of any drastic actions or forceful management techniques. The problem with the idea that making waves is necessary to facilitate change is that the outcome and effect on the other members on the team may not react as intended and it may even have a negative effect (Torbert, 2004). This may result in team members being unable to communicate properly with the leader or with decreased productivity due to the sudden changes and major changes in the working environment brought about by the waves.
This was exactly the problem that Coach Smith was able to avoid when he took over the team and inspired us with his quiet leadership. 12 strong willed and capable individuals, each person playing for his own personal glory, to rack up the most number of points or even the league Most Valuable Player (MVP) trophy, would hardly make an efficient and effective team. Yet Coach was able to harness the individual talents of each player but still make the unit function as an effective team.
In popular leadership models such as Situational Leadership which was developed by Blanchard and Hersey in the late 1960s, the need for a flexible leader who was able to adapt leadership practices to suit the needs of the working environment was emphasized (Argyris, 1976). A good leader must be able to assess the situation and determine what the best approach is, whether it is by making waves or quietly empowering and inspiring the team members. Leaders do not need to make waves to facilitate change. Other flexible and more effective means of quietly inspiring change are available and may even prove to have more of an impact than simply making waves.
I like to believe that my leadership style today is similar to that which my Coach practiced or that of Herb Kelleher. I have consciously patterned my leadership methods with the way that these great leaders have led others and inspired them. The reason I have done so is because I believe that a person cannot motivate a team to feel good about their work if you, as their leader, do not. Similarly, team members will not feel ownership or go the extra mile if you do not. You must set an example by demonstrating passion about your work and displaying confidence in the team to do a good job. Leaders must practice personal integrity and fairness. Model it and expect it from others. People who feel they can tell the truth, without fear of reprisal, grow as they experiment and experience success and failure (Cran, 2003).
This approach to leadership of mine has as much to do with the great influence that Coach Smith has had on me as has my background. As I mentioned earlier, I come from a broken family and my mother has been battling with cancer since I was young. This led me to grow up in an environment that was all but bereft of role models and leaders. There was no support and I had to work for everything that I had and still continue to do so. It is this that has also led me to choose this style of leadership for myself because I believe that everyone had potential in them and with the proper motivation and inspiration it can be brought out, not only for the benefit of the team, the business or the company but also for the individual himself.
Today’s follower-leader relationship shows that followers want trust and are not motivated by what the leader think they want, but rather by what each specific follower wants (Bain, 1982). Motivation is generated internally, and a leader merely taps into the internal power of the follower (Thach, Thompson, and Morris, 2006). Followers determine their commitment to organizations by reflecting on how hard they will work, what type of recognition and reward they might receive (transactional), and if that reward will be worth it (Strebel, 1996).
Today I am a leader, I may not be a great leader but I am confident that I can develop my leadership skills to be one. My leadership style is in motivating people and in quietly inspiring change and developing the talents and abilities of the people around me and in my organization. This is the style that I have chosen because I feel that it is the most effective method. I do not choose to be excellent or wealthy or powerful, I choose to lead and that makes all the difference.
Argyris, C. (1976) Increasing Leadership Effectiveness, Wiley, New York
Bain, D. (1982). The productivity prescription. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Cran, C (2003). Eight Ways to Motivate Your Team. Retrieved 11/14/2006, from http://www.refresher.com/!ccmotivate.html
House, R. J. (2004) Culture, Leadership, and Organizations: The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies, SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks
Northwestern University. (2004). Herb Kelleher. Retrieved November 11, 2006, from http://www.transportation.northwestern.edu/programs/patterson/lecturers/97kelleher/kelleherBio.html
Thach, E. C., Thompson, K. J., and Morris, A. (2006). A Fresh Look at Followership
Torbert, W. (2004) Action Inquiry: the Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership, San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Warneka, T. (2006). Leading People the Black Belt Way: Conquering the Five Core Problems Facing Leaders Today. Asogomi Publications Intl. Cleveland, Ohio