Thursday, December 6, 2012

Thoughts on Coaching and Leadership

At the beginning of the week, we wrapped up the 2012 term of the TNT Coaches Committee(see "Education and Enthusiasm" halfway down the page) and since then, my free-time focus has been on developing ways to continue coaching education and further the growth of all the leaders who contribute to the GLA chapter.

I've had some good conversations with a couple of my mentors from the program - marathon coach Dave and marathon program director Maggie - about what's really needed to continue the momentum we are slowing starting to build.

Since I've had a fair amount of downtime this week, I decided to re-read one of my favorite books on coaching. It's called, "The Mentor Leader" by NFL Coach Tony Dungy. Of all of the books and articles I have used as resources, I find this one to be the most insight and inspiring.

Dungy is admittedly a very religious man, so there are sections of the book that heavily reference the Bible. I'm not a religious person, but I can appreciate his use of those parables to make a point. If you can read beyond (or through, or to the side of) those part if they may grate you, you'll still find some sage words and lessons.

I'm not certain why I'm so drawn to Dungy's philosophy - I think his emphasis on being of service to others and the focus on creating future leaders is admirable and aspirational.

I've pulled a ton of quotes out of the book. I'm writing about them partly so I can use this for my own reference. But also, if I throw it up here in the interweb world, maybe someone else will find them useful. These ideas are certainly something I strive for, but by no means anything that I have accomplished yet. But I keep trying!

Anything is bold are the words of Dungy and his co-author Nathan Whitaker.

“I have seen all kinds of leaders, but the ones who have had the greatest positive impact on my life are the select few who have been not only leaders but also mentors.” I can tick off a handful of people in my life who have mentored me as an athlete and a coach. My premiere team soccer coach, Steve Werbner; my high school basketball coach, Nancy Cleary; my college volleyball coach Harleigh Leach; my college javelin coach, Pete Carroll; my first marathon coach, Chris Wilno. This is a list that is ever growing as I continue to work in the marathon and tri community.

“Leadership is not an innate, mystical gift; rather, it is a learned ability to influence the attitudes and behaviors of others.” I love the idea that leadership is something you can learn, gain and grow. It's not a genetic trait or a set quality. Like anything else, you can invest in your abilities and evolve.

“When it comes to effective leadership, it’s not about you and what makes you comfortable or helps you get ahead. It’s about others.” It's not about me. It's about others - being of service to them, helping them find their potential and bringing value to their lives. That doesn't mean its not rewarding, though. I get so much out of working with others. I learn just as much as I try to impart. “Humble servant leadership demonstrates to those you lead that you see them as valuable, and it’s worth your time to serve them – not to have them serving you … Leaders who serve – not just when it’s convenient, neat, and acceptable, but when it’s timely, needed and right.”

“People respect a leader who doesn’t have all the answers as long as they can see that the leader is committed to personal growth.” Dungy talks a lot about leaders being seen as human. And it's good to be seen that way. Effective leaders aren't the ones who are untouchable, who lead in a vacuum, or who stay locked in an ivory tower, commanding from above. Leading and mentoring is about partnership, being in the trenches with everyone you lead, and being open to acknowledging your strengths and weakness. And if we are smart about it, “We should surround ourselves with people whose strengths complement our weaknesses.”

“Don’t worry about the size of your platform or whether you’ll have one – you will. Instead, pay attention to the people around you and the opportunities in front of you, knowing that your chances to make a positive difference will come along in due time.” I've been a solo head coach, a co-coach, and currently I am an assistant coach. And in my day job, I'm an assistant. Sometimes I wear hats of leadership, and other times here to help, support and follow. But where I exist in the totem pole of any organization does not affect my ability to lead. You can make a difference from any position. There is always an opportunity to mentor and to be mentored. Don't write it off because you're not on the top rung of the ladder.

“You can lead without mentoring, by choosing not to become engaged with your group; but mentor leadership requires a deliberate decision to get involved in someone else’s life. So, no question, it takes time; but it will make an incredible difference in your organization and will establish a legacy that will pay dividends long after you’re gone.” Mentor leadership takes time. It comes at the sacrifice of other things you might want to do. This occurs to me sometimes when I have to schedule one-on-one coaching meetings with my runners, or attend an evening meeting across town, or get up early to go coach a practice. I can't deny that it takes time. But all that engagement, and all that I gain from giving up that time, is what ultimately makes my life worthwhile.

I also really enjoy his focus on building people up - “You may not buy the premise that encouragement is always needed, as I believe, but let me ask you this: Who really benefits from discouragement? As type-A athletes, which many in the Ironman community tend to be, we are often our own harshest critics. Having an externalized voice to encourage you through your own doubts and praise your efforts can really change perspective. And changing perspective, little by little, changes lives. I've seen many first-time endurance runners struggle through a 2-mile run when they start training, and in 18 weeks, tackle 26.2 miles at once. It's an amazing for the athlete and the coach and the team as a whole.

“Some mentoring relationships last for years and result in deep friendships. Others can happen in a moment of sharing the wisdom of your experience with someone standing right before you. The key is to look for opportunities and be ready to act.” Doesn't matter who you are or what title you hold. Keep the eyes open and be ready to help - lend an ear, share an experience, empathize. Don't lead from the top, lead from amongst the group.

Mentor Leadership is about leaders building other leaders. Remembering, “It’s not about getting the credit; it’s about helping the organization, and everyone in it, be the best they can be.”

All of these ideas may sound like ideal platitudes, sure. But put into action, I think there's potential to create a really strong community. Not sure how to practice these ideas daily, but my eyes will be open and ears tuned in for the opportunities lurking around me.

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