The following is a speech I shared with the Cougar Ambassadors for Champlain College, Lennoxville, on Friday August 15, 2014.
When Sheila asked me to speak to you good people today, I decided she must come from another planet. What could I, a fifty-something year old, out of work computer geek, possibly say to a group student leaders? Despite my fear and mounting self-doubt, I then realized, that I deeply admire the alien planet Sheila comes from.
Sheila has accomplished so much despite, or perhaps because of, the challenges that she has faced. Sheila must see something positive in me and wants to share that with other people. So here I am today, at the request of Sheila from Planet Q., to talk about leadership, and team building.
To put it bluntly, I do not consider myself to be a leader. I also do not consider myself to be a motivational speaker, at least, not like most common “positive thinking” new age gurus out there. I will NEVER use terms like “vibrational alignment”, or “intention setting”, or any such other gargantuan galactic gobbledygook terminology.
The reality is, life is messy and complicated, and no amount of mystical thinking will EVER change that, or magically align the stars for you. But sometimes, when we do the right things, for a long enough period of time, good things can happen.
Note: At this point, I told the story of how I coached a lacrosse team that won a provincial bronze medal. If you want to read that story now, you can click on the following link:
Coaching Part 2: The Provincial Lacrosse Tournament
The Real Job of a Good Leader (as I see it)
Be a good person
The world is already full of “leaders”, and look at the state it is in. In Quebec especially, it appears that leader is synonymous to corruption. Winning isn’t everything: Take a stand, be a good person.
REDEFINE LEADERSHIP BY PUTTING OTHERS FIRST
You are there to help OTHERS excel, not raise your own profile, or build a good resume.If you have ulterior motives, you will NOT be the type of leader this world needs most.
Example: Considering how crazy most minor league parents are, I was certainly not coaching for my own ego gratification. I was there to help the kids.
You are there to DO
Some people dream of being a leader, thinking that the only thing they will have to do is wave their arms, and command people to do stuff. That could not be further from the truth. In order to succeed, you must be willing to do whatever it takes, on top of every other duty a leader has.
Even with the best people on your team, at some point or another, you will have to jump in, and get your hands dirty. You might not be able to replace a key member, but you will at least have to be familiar with every person’s role and duties.
Example: Some coaches like to show up at the last moment before a game, commanding the team and his assistant coaches, and never do anything else. My approach was different.
For every practice, and every game, I called every player to ensure they would be attending. By doing so, I got to know each player better, and also, a bit of what life was like for them at home. I organized our practice drills, I fixed equipment, organized transportation, etc. Coaching became an unpaid full time job, not just a “game day” experience.
KNOW THE DECK YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN
Most often, you will be handed a team. (Oh, it would be so nice to choose everyone on our team). Get to know each member of your team.Find your Aces as quickly as possible, and assign them accordingly. Most Aces never need to be told what to do.The same goes for all the rest of your other team members, rank and assign them according to their abilities and talents. King’s, Queen’s, Jacks and so on, down to the 2’s. Even 2’s serve an important role, just like a pawn in the game of chess can become the most powerful piece on the board.
Example: Our youngest and smallest player became our best defender, and “giant slayer”, especially during the last period of that bronze medal game.
You are there to TEACH
If you don’t like teaching, do not be a leader. Leaders who want their teams to excel have to be willing to share their knowledge and experiences. Spinning off powerful partners through teaching is critical to success.
Example: I always made sure my assistant coaches had all the information to do my job. My practice and game plans, the player lists with phone numbers, parent names, starting lineup, EVERYTHING, just in case I was ever unable to attend.
You are there to LISTEN
As a leader, you will never have all the ideas and information required to do the job. You must listen to everyone on your team, gathering the knowledge and channeling it, like a river gathers water from all the tributaries and channels it to its final destination.Example: I always listened to my assistant coaches, and my players. I had my own ideas to be sure, but, each player knows themselves best, and who am I to argue with that?
You are there to SUPPORT
Good leaders love supporting people. It is your job as a leader to remove any roadblocks your team encounters. Sometimes those problems are real, sometimes those problems are imagined.You must be willing to not only be a leader, but also, a motivator, den mother, sister, brother, friend, confidant, whatever it takes to get your team moving forward.In essence, each person on your team is unique, and you will have to get to know each one of them, and present unique approaches to maximize each person’s potential.
Example: As coach, the variety of problems I had to tackle were INSANE: The tears of a ten year old player, the unreasonable fears of a parent, bad refereeing, broken equipment, the problems never stopped coming.
You are there to TAKE THE BLAME
A good leader listens to their client, and takes the blame when things go wrong. You listen and then make corrections: It is the only way to make your team better.
NEVER MAKE EXCUSES, and NEVER THROW SOMEBODY UNDER THE BUS. This is also known as FIX THE PROBLEM NOT THE BLAME.
Even if someone is truly to blame, fix the problem internally by coaching that person. If coaching does not work, eventually, you will have to fire the person who continually fails, or the whole team will suffer.Example: In my first years as a coach, we always lost at the major tournaments. Even though the teams from Montreal were always bigger than ours, I never used that as an excuse. I kept digging deeper each season, listening to other coaches from older teams, and kept getting better at coaching.
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF, BELIEVE IN YOUR TEAM
Although I poked fun at “new age positive belief gurus” earlier, believing in yourself and your team is fundamental to success. Positive thinking ALONE is not a cure-all for poor leadership, poor preparation and poor execution.
The true definition of success is not whether we win or lose, but HOW we win and lose. There are many people in the world who are considered “winners”, but leave behind them a wake of utter devastation. Just one example of these types of false winners are CEO’s who run large corporations that are killing this planet. Success to me is always giving it your best effort, while trying to make the world and the people around you even just a small percentage better.
With that definition of success in mind, I’d like to close with little reminder I keep in my daily “to do” list:
BELIEVING – HARD WORK = DREAMING
HARD WORK – BELIEVING = SURVIVING
BELIEVING + HARD WORK + CARING= SUCCEEDING
Author’s Note: Response to the speech has been very positive. Here’s what the organizer of the days festivities, Sheila Quinn, had to to say:
“YOU ARE INCREDIBLE!!!!!!!! Frank, Nancy and Richard specifically spoke to me about how incredible you were – Nancy as Dean of Student Services has a huge amount of responsibility on her plate – she really holds the college together – so to see the students so dumbstruck and in awe was SO great! THANK YOU!!!”
And thank YOU Sheila, without you, this would never have happened!
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