It is the first day of practice. The equipment is new, coaches have been meeting for weeks, and inexperienced teams are coming together for the first time. So, what will athletes take away from the season? Wins and losses? Sure. Success and failure? Absolutely. Life and leadership skills? Well, that depends on the coaching.
Matt Williams, manager of MLB’s Washington Nationals and National League Manager of the Year, was fired on Monday. The reasons for his termination, as reported by the Washington Post, were to be expected: poor team development and lack of team communication. The largest component of his failure, however, was the absence of leadership. He did not inspire. He did not improve. He did not promote change.
Sport, like all other sectors of business, is contingent upon having a strong leader to develop the players, implement a strategy to achieve goals, and make each project a reason for celebration as well as an opportunity to learn.
Take, for instance, Jim Harbaugh. After seven nail-biting seasons, the University of Michigan brought Harbaugh into the football head coaching role this year. After a public off-season that included hosting training camps in SEC territory, international travels, and social media recruiting, Harbaugh opened up his practice in March to 800 high school football coaches on a Saturday afternoon. Watching the coach work with players equated to watching a successful CEO of up-and-coming organizations. He observed. Each play that ran was an opportunity for him to absorb everything the team was offering. He checked different angles. He stood by various coaches. After the plays ran, he taught. Physically, he got onto the field and explained the correct way to execute the play, what players could do to make it work advantageously, and adjusted specific movements. Then, he observed again. If needed, he taught again, but he always celebrated successes with high fives and words of encouragement. It is only October, but according to NBC Sports, Harbaugh’s move to Michigan was a “slam dunk hire from the start”.
Williams and Harbaugh are two different types of coaches in two unique sports, but leaders throughout all sectors can learn from their lessons. Leaders inspire. Leaders teach. Leaders get on the ground level to observe even the smallest moves that could be causing a butterfly effect on the way to achieving goals.
Leaders are coaches. Anyone who brings a group of individuals together to move toward a common purpose is developing a new level of leadership and, with the appropriate amount of encouragement, ensuring organizational success.