The role of servant leadership.
This past April fool’s Day I began an early morning catching a plane to Chicago, Illinois to attend a coach-tutoring course. The purpose of the course was to teach the processes necessary to train new coaches in the art of their craft. So this course was all about stepping off the pitch, field, court, track, etc. and getting above the day to day thought processes of ‘being’ a coach. To step out of that role and into the role of a tutor/mentor to other coaches.
Having been a coach for several years, I realized I took for granted the routine of being a coach, planning, organizing, conducting training, managing logistics, game management, consideration of players, etc. These activities had become routinized and part of the process each season brought with it.
What I had not considered in some time was how one learns to “be a coach”. Therefore, I was excited for the weekend to unfold and noodle around in the coach of the coaches’, mind-set.
As we progressed through the course work, I also tried to pay attention to how our “coach” structured his course and presented it himself. Here are my takeaways from a great teacher.
- Be sincere in wanting to help others. Be respectful of your pupils, respectful of your role and respectful of the process of coaching.
- Value contributions. Make time for your players and connect with each of them on a personal level.
- Seek full participation and participate fully yourself. Everyone needs to participate and everyone needs to be allowed to participate. This is the only way that we can help each other and create an inclusive team.
- Players learn from their coaches but also from other players. Likewise, coaches learn from their players and from other coaches. This includes the side conversations where we discuss our personal struggles, successes and desires.
- Listen to others and yourself. We are taught to speak, to use proper enunciation, to write, to use proper diction but when are we taught to listen?
- Be focused in your observations. Do not be caught simply watching but analyze what you are observing.
- Accept failure. We have to let others fail, in a safe environment that we have created and control, so they can learn. Failure is a powerful learning tool and a crucible that can give rise to reflection, deeper learning and creation of resilience and grit. It should not be avoided but considered a step along the road to long-term success.
Ultimately, I learned that a coach should be a servant to his/her athletes and that a coach of coaches is a servant to their sporting community.
As Robert Greenleaf posits, “The care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived? A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.”
This I believe is what being a coach to coaches is about. It is about being a servant leader to a community, to ensuring other coaches’ needs are being served and through them that their players needs are being served. That coaches and players are allowed to grow as individuals, to become “healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants”.
As we closed the course in Chicago, twenty newly minted coach-tutors huddled around our coach of coaches to hear his sage advice before we departed. In the calm and welcoming tone we had become accustomed to, he simply went around the group, asking each of us in turn what our thoughts were, what we had learned and what we thought coaching and being a coach-tutor meant to us now that we had really spent time considering the topic.
Before we departed, he wanted to ensure both him and his staff and had served our needs. Servant leadership in action.
Dr. Stephen Forsha is program director for online undergraduate business programs and associate professor of business at William Woods University.