The Essence of Leadership


Blog: The Essence of Leadership

Here is a blog article that ran in the USECA Newsletter. If you are looking for a great organization that provides lots of coaching tips and advice, check out the US Elite Coaches Association.


I have stated many times that the technical aspects of our sport are attainable and within the reach of any aspiring coach. It is the application of this knowledge, and how you lead your troops that truly separates the good from the great. Much has been written on the topic of leadership in relationship to success, but H.A. Dorfman’s Coaching the Mental Game, nails it. In his book he outlines the characteristics of a great leader and it is quite interesting how easily you can see these traits in the most successful coaches in our sport. Mary Lee Tracy, Valarie Liukin, Kelly Hill, Tony Gehman, Todd Gardner immediately came to mind as I read his list.


  A Credo. Great leadership begins with believing in something. Some refer to this as a mission statement but no matter what it is called it is the foundation of leadership. It is what the coach, the organization, and or the team stands for. It is the values and philosophies that serve to shape actions, the standards and the expectations deemed appropriate for representing that team.


Consistency/Authenticity. Athletes will respond to consistent expectations. Nothing upsets the apple cart faster than inconsistent methods, tactics, and philosophies. Great leadership is an “all the time thing” not a “sometimes thing”. The beliefs etched in the credo are echoed daily in the actions and demands of a great leader. When a coach lets things drift off the stated path, the first thing that is lost is the athletes trust. They now question the goals and the direction. They soon question the coaches authenticity. Dorfman quotes Sophocies in saying “those don’t command who do not enforce”. Talking about standards and expectations serves little purpose if they are not enforced. Authenticity is honest integrity driven consistency.  It makes the leader real and believable in the eyes of the followers.


Flexibility– A one size fits all approach to coaching is a ridiculous methodology. The ability to adapt tactics and strategies, motivation and plans based on the situation or the individual need of the athletes is imperative to good leadership. Sports are ever evolving, what we considered gospel 10 years ago might now be outdated. Flexibility is the ability to adjust your “consistency” when something has been validated as no longer fitting the needs of your team. “Comfort in foolishness and failure is consistency and something that makes those that we are supposed to be leading very uncomfortable”. Flexibility is part of the evolution of a great coach.


Discipline– Discipline is order and structure. It implies commitment to the stated “credo” and dedication to the expectations and standards it represents.  Discipline implies that the members of the organization/team be accountable and responsible. Discipline is preparation and the relentless pursuit of the established goals. Self-discipline is doing what is right when no one else is watching. According to Dorfman, this is not a human norm. Doing the right thing requires great power of will and is certainly an asset that the greatest achievers possess.


   Preparation– Successful coaches don’t simply show up at competitions and produce champions. They fully realize the need for preparation. One of the most famous coaches ever, Vince Lombardi, made a career of doing simple things perfectly, through meticulous preparation. Preparation is planning, practice organization, defining roles, delegating responsibility, assessing progress, making adjustments and competition strategies. Plan your work … work your plan.


   Rationality/Grace To think is to act, Rationality is the ability to use intelligence over emotional passion. Coaching can be an emotional experience as we are certainly vested in the process. In the heat of battle, emotions run high but emotion can’t rule the day, Rationality has to play the lead. All to often we have witnessed emotional coaching cause a total train wreck situation (believe me I have been guilty a time or two). Cooler heads prevail and in the process, teams, athletes and results gain the benefit. Grace under pressure means keeping your poise while others are loosing theirs. If you can master this as a coach, you will be a leader than can pull your athletes through rather than be devoured by tough situations. Develop a inner vision that is “Un-Get-Able (which means nothing or nobody can get to you). This is intimidating to the opposition and is contagious to your athletes.


   Courage– Courage is a resource that is needed at every turn, the courage to enforce, to stand strong, to confront difficulty and adversity. Courage is needed to hold yourself and your followers accountable. The Latin “Cor” means heart. To have courage is to have heart. Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the willingness to act regardless of fear. Many coaches run from threatening situations but this not a great strategy nor does it bring safety. Courage is tackling the issues head on so that short term pain becomes long term gain (Dr. Allison Arnolld).  Challenging the tough situations elevates behavior, elevates the leader and the organization one leads.


Dorfman advises to keep the following in mind:


  • A coaches team represents something. It should represent what the coach deems to be a form of excellence.
  • Consistency means the adherence to the standards and expectations that your pre-established credo (mission statement) repreents.
  • A coaches honesty and integrity are what makes him/her authentic, real, believable to the athletes.
  • Flexibility implies calculated changed based on the evident need for that change
  • Discipline includes setting the parameters and structure, order and acceptable level of effort while simultaneously enforcing those standards
  • Poise is the quality of self control that allows for productive and effective thinking when the heat is on.
  • Courage provides the strength for doing what we know in our hearts is right.


For a great coaching bible, be sure to check out D A Dorfmans, Coaching the Mental Game. I have to give total credit for this article to this enlightened author and motivator.