Extreme Leadership

A post to my site has been long overdue. But the delay did not happen because of just a lack of desire or ideas, but from a decrease in free time. I am happy to say that training has returned to a resemblance of normal. Teams are back to daily environments that means support to athletes and coaches has been on the rise. I am very fortunate to be back with the Neutral Hills Wrangles, helping with a local cycling program and, and Killarney Artistic Swim. I am also excited to begin with the National Sport Academy Baseball program and a few smaller, equally exciting projects. I would like to thank Jason Poole and Jason Sjostrom at the Canadian Sport Institute for asking me to assist with these projects and agree to collaborate on others.  It is really an honour to be back at whatever capacity to assist coaches and athletes of all levels. As the tag line for the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary states, if comes down to “elevating the athlete.”

Despite the hustle of the summer and the fall, there was time to read. This summer I was able to read 4 new books, and 4 rereads; books that I find so influential, technical, or important that I read a second, possibly third time. One of the more interesting books that captured my attention this summer was Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Very much rooted in the leadership within the Navy Seals, there were several parallels to Integrated Support Teams. They spoke throughout the book of the dichotomy of leadership which resonated on a deep level with me, as I venture to help coaches as well as athletes.

The keys to leadership, and this should come as no surprise, as we all should know by now it is about building relationships through respecting people. Being humble, listening, telling them the truth and having integrity set a solid foundation for that relationship to grow.  But to delve deeper into that concept it is important that a good leader must be confident but not cocky. Now in many cases, I for one would have been labeled on the cocky side. But with age, therefore some life wisdom we learn to put our egos aside, and realise it is not about us, hoe good our programs are, or who we have worked with. It is about those you are supporting, who they are working with, and can you elevate their programs to help support those they are supporting.

Good leaders need to be courageous but not foolhardy. Never has this been more important than now, in the age of social media, the new normal of a global pandemic, and when you are back out in the world climbing the ladder of success again. It is the process of believing in yourself, your skills, and your abilities to act on your passion to move forward; to believe so deeply in your process that you can focus on the goal. But it is also the ability to see, when it is time to change the course slightly, or ask for help. Once, again, that ego is put aside and you reach out to a network that you have hopefully built though strong relationships.

We all need to be competitive but a gracious loser. When I was younger, I took things personally, and at times I still do. If an athlete decided to move on from me to someone else, I was out of sorts for a while. But let’s be honest, there are many people doing great work out there.  Once again, it is not about me, it is about them and what they need to be successful. If this is what they feel they need, then support them in that decision. It may work out, it may not, but you are there to support them, and to even welcome them back if need be. Understand that the wins will come, and they will feel amazing. But with the wins, there will be eventual losses. Sometimes we got a lot of losses. It is how you pick yourself up from those losses that helps to define your leadership.

We all can be attentive to details but not obsessed by them. We talk about this in periodization. Plans are written in pencil and ink. They can be adjusted. Understand that the attention to details matter, to have the most robust plan, account for scenarios but at times, the plan must take a different course. It is not abandoning the plan but guiding the decisions within the bandwidth of our experience. This brings with it new experience and understanding that gives us that greater knowledge.

This career requires good leaders to be strong but have endurance. Not in the physical sense but in character and mental strength. Leadership is not something you walk in and bang out over the course of a few days. It can be months, years that this process develops. So having the mental endurance to take on this marathon is highly relevant to great leadership.

A strong and effective leader must be a leader and a follower. Really this comes down to know when to lead, and when to back off and support. Able to execute extreme ownership, while exercising decentralized command. This is also a trait of a truly great mentor as well. In the words of Higgins from the ever-popular show Ted Lasso, “A good mentor hopes you will move on. A great mentor knows you will.” A good leader knows when to back off as they trust the mentor.  And this requires the leader to once again, be humble not passive.

But when things are not going as planned, it is a skill to be aggressive not overbearing. The overbearing, leader fails to gain the respect of the team. No one wants to feel that they are not trusted, being talked down to, dismissed or yelled at. This also means that the leader needs to be quiet not silent and calm but not robotic, logical but not devoid of emotions.

Leadership is also about being close with others, coaches, and athletes, but not so close that one becomes more important than another or more important than the good of the team.  Not so close that they forget who is in charge. There is a skill at being friendly, but not being friends with those you lead. As time moves, and I can say that I would consider many coaches I have worked with friends. But, having the above skills, helps to differentiate this when it comes to the daily training environment, and when critical decisions need to be made. When it comes to athletes, it is CRITCAL to differentiate the friendly from friends. That is a tough process when young leaders are placed in a position with athletes not much older than them, but that creates no excuse. Sport needs to be a safe place, and our relationship with our athletes cannot come from a place of transactional, abusing our “power”. That has zero place in sport.

And lastly, A GOOD LEADER HAS NOTHING TO PROVE BUT EVERYTHING TO PROVE. We are here to support, we are here to guide, and we will do that with the best of our ability, with the knowledge we have at this time. But we also have to have impact, create results, and not just speak about actions, but enact on the.  That requires us to be humble, listen, telling the truth and having integrity to set a solid foundation for that relationship to grow

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