"I don't know who are leaders are, we haven't voted yet."

One of the first questions I like to ask a coach is, “who are your best team leaders?” I recently asked that question to a coach whom I was speaking to on the phone for the first time. I am still haunted by his reply.  He said, “I don’t know who our leaders are because we haven’t voted yet.”

If I had asked this coach who his best players were we’d still be on the phone talking! He would have been able to talk in great detail about his leading goal scorer, his blue-collar defensive player of the year, or his freshman who is a little raw but has unstoppable speed. He would be able to answer that question because he is in touch with what makes a great player. So why couldn’t he tell me who his best team leaders were?

I believe there are three logical reasons why a coach might not be able to answer that question right away:

  1. Recently hired: If a coach was recently hired it would be difficult to know who your team leaders are because everyone is on his or her best behavior and trying to make a good impression. Also, how you define leadership might be different from what they have experienced in the past and it might take some time and intentional effort on your part to develop your players as leaders. In this case, I would expect your answer to be, “I’m not yet sure who our best team leaders are. I need to get to know each of them better and see whom I can develop to match my expectations of a leader.”
  2. A great group of leaders graduated: If you have seniors who have served as team leaders for several years it may take time some time to figure out who your next round of leaders will be. I am working with a team right now that is in this situation. Because the graduating class was so strong in leadership it is taking some time and space for the next round of leaders to surface. With this team, the coach is being very intentional about creating space in the offseason for those leaders to surface. If this describes your team I would expect your answer to be, “I’m not yet sure who our best team leaders are. We need to use the off-season to create leadership opportunities to see who will step into that role for us.”
  3. Transfers are added to the roster: Teams often assume that older players are the team leaders (I don’t always agree with this) but transfers who join your team mid-year might make an impact as leaders. In this situation, you may simply need time to see how your team responds to the new players and how that impacts the different roles people will play. In this case, I would expect your answer to be, “I’m not yet sure who our best team leaders are because we have added some transfers and they are changing the dynamics of our team culture. I want to spend a few months getting to know the new players and seeing how they try and lead our team before any formal decisions are made.”

Notice what it missing in each of those examples? Not once was a vote the reason why you can’t answer that question. As coaches, we obviously have a pulse on the skill of our players and since leadership is a skill we should also know who our best team leaders are. Additionally, we should be active in recruiting and developing leaders. While we might not know who our players think the leaders are, we as coaches should have an opinion based on our observations of active leadership moments.

There are three good reasons why you might be able to answer that question and in each of those examples, you need a plan of attack. If you need help with a plan please reach out, I’d love to help you identify your team leaders.

So coach, “who are your best team leaders?”