How Working With Children is a Good Way to Improve Your Leadership Skills
June 1, 2012 2 Comments
For me to write a blog article I have to be excited and energized about a specific topic. This passion generally comes from a specific topic or something happening in my business or personal life. Both my business and personal life are full because I am a unit leader, husband, parent and coach. As much as I learn from my experiences in business, I learn equally as much working with children in sports. It is amazing to me how many parallels you see between the two. The interesting part of coaching is that you see the immediate impact of your decisions. This is not just in the outcome of the score board, but from the fact that children often speak quite openly and have a harder time masking their disappointments or frustrations.
I have coached many teams both for competitive and recreational clubs. During this time I have witnessed that coaches have very different leadership styles that create varying results and cultures.
One coach may use a truly authoritarian style while another mixes authoritarian and participative style. Now I must point out the authoritarian style works when dealing with some children at this stage in their development (remember a leader’s style should suit a follower’s readiness). That being said, when you lead you must adjust to other people in the organization to be truly effective (in this case team managers and assistant coaches). However the type of leadership style you utilize is only one factor as you must also consider how the message is delivered to your group.
While I believe strong organizational skills and procedures are important, how we develop and work with people is more important in long term success. Let us for example say one coach is highly organized and utilizes every moment with the kids. This style brings practices that are quite focused. However, if the delivery method the coach uses is negative than the long term impact on the team may also be negative. Negativity may include pointing out errors a specific player makes or the coach may even create a nickname to reinforce the message. This form of reinforcement would be considered bullying if it was between children but some coaches believe that it is motivating when coming from a person in authority, this is also true of some managers in the workplace.
Now if we compare this to a second coach who may lack some organization in how they prepare for a night’s practice, and ask for input from assistant coaches or even some players. While some might think this is a lack of confidence, the person is actually trying to run a flat organization. While the practices are not as effective in this manner, the coach does improve the player’s skills by pointing out a player who has just performed a particular drill with excellence.
So how may these two differing styles impact each team? Well, short term the team whose coach runs the highly organized practice will most likely see immediate success in winning the first few games, while the other team may lose. Does this result support that style more? I would say definitely not. After the first team continues to get negative feedback, players and parents will becomes discouraged and may give up on the team or worse the sport all together. The other team however, although losing to begin with, will remain positive about their overall play and the players themselves will continue to work harder to improve. I have seen this happen first hand on different occasions and based on history, the long term results for the positive coach’s team will typically be stronger.
These practices can also be applied to business leadership. A leader must adjust their style to their group’s skills, abilities and engagement. A leader must also realize that a particular group may need different leadership styles based on different tasks. It is part of effective leadership to understand and adjust to the group or individual’s needs.
More important to that is how you deliver your message. I am not going to say that you must always utilize positive support to address change. That would be impossible as certain actions do need to be addressed and corrected from time to time. This style however should be only used occasionally.
There are two very good reasons to adopt this leadership adaptation style. The first is simply that people react better when treated with dignity and respect and they will want to follow you. You will most certainly see the impact of this in your results. The second is that if you have to be strict it will be much more effective if used when only absolutely necessary. People with constant negativity are eventually tuned out, but when someone who is typically positive becomes upset it causes everyone to stop and pay attention. Above all do not use nicknames or be disrespectful. Even when a leader feels they must utilize an autocratic approach, this can still be done in a professional manner.
It is amazing what children can teach us in all aspects of our lives. I know coaching youth teams has made me a better leader.