Leadership Issues

This is a topic I could probably write about every week for the rest of the year and still have plenty of material left to share. Whether it’s management in your company or a coach of your athletic team, misconceptions and misguided attempts to lead are everywhere. Poor leadership can kill an individual’s drive and turns otherwise thriving productive people into malcontents.

There are many mistaken notions about what makes a good leader. One of the more common ones is that the higher level of education you receive the more capable of a leader you will be. The truth is, CEO’s with MBA’s or Law degrees perform no better than those with just a college degree. Many also believe that the more experience a coach or manager has the better they will be. Again the correlation between experience and success as a coach or leader is often an inverse relationship.

One of the best coaches/leaders I have ever been associated with was a former football player whose first coaching job was starting a gymnastics program from scratch at a high school. He was a 23-year old college graduate and had never had any experience with gymnasts/gymnastics at any level. He ended up winning nine state titles in ten years of coaching gymnastics.

The last few years he was coaching gymnastics at the school, he also began assisting with the track team. When the head coach died unexpectedly he was asked to lead the track and cross country teams at the school. He accepted, but gave up his duties with the gymnastics team. Again he immediately started winning state championships in one of the most competitive states in track and field in the country.

In all, he won another 16-state championships in track and cross country (and an unprecedented 25 state titles in all) before a young sporting goods company named Nike hired him away to coach their top post collegiate track athletes.

The man knew how to get the best out of people; it didn’t matter what sport you put him in. In fact, once he stopped coaching he took a job with Nike running factories overseas and became one of their most valued leaders there as well, rising to the upper echelon of the company.

I believe the first law of effective leadership is the ability to care deeply about those you are leading. As the great John Wooden was fond of saying: “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Sports Illustrated named Wooden the Coach of the Century not long ago for winning ten NCAA basketball championships over a span of twelve years.

What many do not know is that baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates tried unsuccessfully to hire Wooden as their manager in the 1970’s despite never having coached baseball. I have no doubt he would have been able to produce similar results with the Pirates had he taken the job.

To this day, the people doing the hiring lean heavily on people from their own industry rather than looking for the best person to fill the job. If I were hiring a new manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates or a division leader at Nike tomorrow, three of the first people to get calls from me would be Chip Kelly, Joe Moglia and Brad Stevens.

It’s the person, not the experience or credentials, that make a good leader.


You can follow Sam on Twitter @SuperTaoInc


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