As we get closer to the beginning of a new school year and (possibly) new soccer season, leadership is a topic that has been on my mind. Leadership is a crucial component to a successful team. The unfortunate thing is that many people see leadership from the outside and make assumptions about it. Or have only ever experienced poor leadership and assume that is what it looks like. I’ve put two contrasting ideas here in order to encapsulate what true leadership is about.
Leaders go first is a statement that I repeat to my players often. It should be obvious because the word leader has the word “lead” in it. Despite this fact, many people miss it. The plain and simple fact is that in order to earn a position of leadership, you need to be willing to go first. A leader doesn’t need to go first all of the time but those in her or his charge need know without a doubt that the leader can/will do everything that they are asked to do. Many people try to lead from their position. This means that they have a position of power, therefore people should follow them. Although it can work out just fine, it has the potential to cause a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality/perception. This can be problematic because people follow people, not positions, at least not for long. Recognizing this fact is important. Eventually the shine of the title will wear off and the people in your charge be left with you. The title makes you accountable. The people under you need you to be responsible meaning “able to respond”. It is the thumbs before fingers ethos. Leaders need to respond without pointing the finger.
Leaders Eat Last is the title of a great book by Simon Sinek. It’s based on a practice in the Marine Corps where higher ranking officer eat after their subordinates. This seems backward and coupled with the first paragraph makes leadership seem like a raw deal. However it makes perfect sense. Leaders eat last because if they have done their job effectively then their subordinates will want to be sure there is food left for them. We’ve gotten far too accustomed to people in leadership positions taking all of the spoils that come with their position regardless of their subordinates. These relationships do not exist in a vacuum. Our hierarchical system allows for leaders to take some of the riches that come in. However when they don’t meet their leadership mandate of looking out for those under them, the system is out of balance and can topple. Simon Sinek’s book does a wonderful job of describing the biochemical system that creates effective leadership. This video gives an overview. Regardless of whether you understand the biochemistry, you need to understand the bookends of the leader.
Leaders live in a dichotomy where they must be both above and below the people that follow them. This is not 100% literal nor is it 100% of the time. The leader needs to model the behavior for those who are following and help protect them when things go sideways. Again this seems like a raw deal. If it is done well though, a leader will reap the benefits of all of that selflessness by having it returned tenfold. Serve your people so well that they want to serve you! Support your people so well that they want to support you! Protect your people so well that they want to protect you!
After all of this talk about leadership, it might be easy to say “I don’t want to be a leader.” Unfortunately, no matter what you are the leader of at least one person: yourself. Now is the time to step forward. Leaders go first, leaders eat last! Be a leader because there are far too many followers.
Go get it!