A Practical and Effective Way to Develop Leaders

develop leaders

One of the most common mistakes coaches make around player leadership is they believe developing leaders is just telling them how to lead. In fact, I frequently get emails or messages from coaches asking, “What book do you recommend I give to my captains this year?”. It’s not that a book study isn’t valuable; it’s just that it’s pointless if we aren’t giving them opportunities to lead. 

In Chapter 9 of The Culture System, I outline the Leadership Council, where coaches develop a leadership group to drive the culture. The role of the leadership council is to serve, support, and connect with the athletes on the team. The purpose of the leadership group is to give them opportunities to lead in the weight room, the locker room, the warm-up at practice, and team social events. But it’s not just about giving them responsibility— our responsibility is to provide them with autonomy and support, coaching them through the experience.

Using this approach, a college ice hockey coach I coach recently saved himself a lot of time and energy while improving his culture and his team’s work ethic. He had been attending every one of the team’s weight room sessions, and he believed he needed to be there to support and enforce the team standards. At some point early in the season, he was getting burnt out and decided to hand over the weight room standards to his leadership council. Instead of attending every session, in his weekly meeting with his leadership council, they would check in on the effort and focus in the weight room. It wasn’t an instant success. When the head coach stepped back, the standard dropped. But instead of stepping in, he coached his leaders on how to support athletes who were struggling and hold those accountable who weren’t working hard. At various points, leaders asked a few guys who weren’t focused, working hard, or being a distraction to step out of the weight room. Now, this standard and culture in the weight room are better than they have ever been. 

The lesson is to give your leaders responsibility and coaching, autonomy, and support—it improves your team culture and develops leadership. 

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