Sports performance is a demanding industry. Results, not good intentions, are the measure of success on the playing field or in the fitness room, and poor leadership will jeopardize success. Everyone likes to talk about what makes a leader successful but knowing what causes a leader to fail is just as significant.
Recognizing the pitfalls will help a coach or sports director to avoid them. Here are some of the more common reasons why a highly talented leader will ultimately fail.
- Poor Communication Skills. It is more than just an inability to explain the vision or goal to be achieved. A deficiency in listening skills is going to cut down any leader in the sports industry. Listening means being able to accept constructive criticism. It also requires an ability to understand what the other person is saying and accepting that others may have the right answers.
- Playing It Too Safe. This is commonly known as risk aversion. It happens when a fear of failure is greater than the need to succeed. A leader is tempted to avoid taking risks and settles for what has been successful in the past. It is comparable to a football coach who insists on having a running game but without any passing attack. The strategy can work during the regular season, but it may be a disaster in a championship game. While there is no reason to take foolish chances, a successful leader must take some risks for the sake of achieving the desired goal.
- Being Disorganized. The confusion stems from a lack of understanding of the details. A leader fails when he or she cannot master the complexity of the position. It doesn’t mean the person must micromanage. Rather, the failure comes from an inability to delegate to subordinates important details that would take too much of a leader’s time. The leader in this case is too disorganized to know what those important details happen to be.
- Refusing to Develop Staff. The reluctance is the very core of micromanagement. It comes from a degree of insecurity the individual leader has. This person may be intimidated by subordinates and fear that any development effort will lead to actual competition from those led. A good leader should be willing to increase the skill level of those supervised. Fear of being replaced by a subordinate is not an acceptable excuse.
- Intellectual Arrogance. A once highly successful leader can develop the opinion he or she is an expert. A coach who designed certain techniques or plays may be reluctant to listen to any possible improvements. After all, the coach was the one who invented the activity. Ego and personal pride can take the place of common sense, as the coach refuses to consider anything else. Such stubbornness can lead to embarrassment.
- A Tendency to Delegate Responsibility. Every leader needs to delegate tasks from time to time. This is very true in sports performance. An athletic director should not have to also design practice workouts and have a direct role in recruiting. Nevertheless, the athletic director cannot delegate the responsibility for actions taken by subordinates. Failure to assume responsibility was at the core of the Penn State scandal a few years back. A leader always must remember that the buck stops at his or her desk.
Is there any way to avoid such failures? Some of the best ways will center on communication and humility. A leader has to be willing to listen to what the staff is saying and make necessary changes. Even though an athletic director or coach has power in the title, humility is something that a good leader possesses. It is a character trait that enables a person to admit there is a better way of doing things and making necessary alterations.
Another way to avoid poor leadership consequences is to recognize service is part of the job. Leaders fail when they refuse to encourage and develop subordinates. They also stumble if they forget it is not all about them. It is not only the leader who makes results. The success of any team or any sports performance organization is a consequence of many people working toward a common goal. A good leader is going to serve to facilitate the success of others within the team or department. A bad one does not and must, therefore, accept the consequences of failure.