Between the Bases: Coaching Leaders

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Coaching Capacity

As part of an ongoing athletics series, we’ll surface stories about unique situations from the world of sports through the lens of Prism®:

Strike three! That marks the sixth loss in a row. The team once again gave up their early lead. Coach Tate couldn’t help but wonder what was happening. Where were their leaders when the going got tough? Her vocal leaders had lost their audience. The silent ones had shut down. Had she failed to prepare them? Had she failed to choose the right leaders?

A softball veteran approaching 20 years as a head coach, Tate prided herself in her ability to develop leaders both on and off the field. In prior years—and generations—she would select captains based on attitude, team value, and work ethic. She would provide other leadership opportunities for underclassmen throughout day-to-day training as well as off-the-field university programming and countless hours of culture-building activities.

Team captains were expected to set the tone, embody team values, and represent the program and the university. Collectively, they were the voice of the team to the coaching staff, keeping a pulse on morale, and serving as ear and shoulder to any teammate in need. That was what Tate believed leadership was about, after all—connecting not just skills, but people, as expressed in this video by Big Think.

After the game, Tate began to reevaluate her team leaders. The captains were successful by many measures. There was a sense of loyalty, and the team seemed to be operating in a highly positive and cohesive state. But she nonetheless noted a lack of peer-to-peer feedback and accountability.

Enlisting the aid of the SurePeople Prism, illustrated in the video above, Tate identified that her chosen captains’ personalities were oriented around precision, versatility, or relationships. Additionally, the comprehensive Team Advisor tool highlighted that two out of the three captains handled conflict by avoiding or accommodating. Collectively, though they had a knack for bringing the team together, their overall concern for individual relationships with teammates stifled their ability to hold others accountable.

The team needed a captain who would be compelled to stand up during times of adversity and wasn’t hesitant to have candid conversations. So, Tate decided to promote a new member to the leadership group. A well-respected junior, this player had a strong, assertive personality and favored a style of collaborating during conflicts—giving a healthy balance to the current group.

The newest captain helped fill a notable void. By speaking up in meetings, she empowered other team captains to do the same, freeing them of their earlier worries about harming their relationships with teammates. Coach Tate was then able to guide the captains into leading team culture-building workshops, welcoming vulnerability, and promoting opportunities for candid feedback.

Slowly but surely, trust and authentic relationships with open and honest communication began to form. Peer-to-peer accountability and feedback were now seen as objective data points instead of personal attacks or criticisms. This was exactly what the team needed to transform their previous strikes into runs, paving the way for newfound success.

“I’m convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day, you bet on people, not on strategies.”
– Lawrence Bossidy

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