Leadership for the next generation

written by Erica Quam

The biggest constant in our world today is change. We aren't the same as we were yesterday and we'll be different again tomorrow.

The world is ever-changing. Technology is different. Education has changed. Each generation brings with them a new set of principles and values.

Even leadership is different.

Coaches can't just coach the way they were coached. They can't just teach leadership the way they were taught. Coaches today have a whole new generation of athletes who don't relate to leadership in the same way. 

Coaches must to be willing to learn new things, be open to new concepts and approach leadership with your athletes differently.

Leadership styles

Many coaches grew up with leaders who led with from a position of dominance. It was clear who was in control and what had to be done. Coaches leveraged their position while enforcing their rules and policies. 

Leadership today involves a stronger connection between people. There's more of a focus on building relationships. People want a cause to embrace. They want to be inspired to take action. 

What happens when we try to lead with a style that doesn't work? The more you attempt to take control, the more a group will dig their heels in...and choose someone else to follow.

What your athletes will tell you:

1. Trust has to be earned. It's not automatic.

Athletes want to connect with you as a person. They don't expect you to be perfect. They want you to be more transparent. If you can show them you are vulnerable you can begin to build this trust. Let them in on the behind the scenes - the decisions you make and the challenges you have. Let them know when you've made a mistake and own it.

2. We won't work hard until we know you care. 

You can have the best training plan in the world that produces incredible results in talented athletes who follow your lead. Your athletes are people first, athletes second. If you don't acknowledge they have lives outside of the athletic arena and real challenges to deal with along the way then you will lose them. Find a way to connect with each athlete every single day. Every human being wants to be seen, to be acknowledged and a connection with others. Get your last minute stuff done ten minutes before practice starts and be present with your athletes. A smile, a hello, a high five or simply asking how they are can go a long way. 

3. We want to know the "why" not just the "what".

If you've ever seen the TED Talk by Simon Sinek, he talks about why Apple is so successful. "People don't buy what you do they buy why you do it." Of course you are an expert as a coach. You obviously know what you are doing. You have experience, you've learned from the best and you have done it yourself. So what? Unless your athletes know why you get out of bed every morning to be there working with them then you are missing a huge piece as a leader. The goal cannot simply be to get them to do what you want them to do. You must share what you believe is possible. Talk about the why first.

4. We want to be empowered and inspired.

Show your team that you are in it with them. Instead of creating a "you" vs. "us" culture (meaning the team vs. the coaches). Include yourself and your staff within the culture of the team. "We" are in this together. Share your vision and outline the path. This gives your team hope and the steps to take to make it happen. I know we can achieve a, b, or c if we can do x, y or z. 

Changing how you approach leadership as a coach doesn't mean you give up your values or vision. It simply means you are more open to a new way of connecting to the athletes you work with who have grown up in a completely different environment.