The Critical Focus on Organizational Leadership

by Jack Warren, Top Coach host and editor

Jack W 3The identification, selection, and development of leaders is critical to the success of your organization. (In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s more important than having a 6’10” shot-blocking big man or a hard throwing lefty.) Yes, leadership among the group of guys that takes the field is important, but at least equally as important among your staff. Today’s short column is not a how-to manual on selecting and developing leaders (that’ll come down the road), but rather a reminder of the importance of the emphasis on this all important topic in your organization.

For years, I worked in a large corporation whose Achilles heel was this very area. They are not alone. Large corporations, large organizations, and governmental agencies are notoriously inept in this one very critical area. Right out of high school, I briefly worked at a factory. Tough work, but I learned a great deal – mostly about what I didn’t want to do the rest of my life. One thing that jumped out at me right away was the factory merit system. That basically came down to two things – seniority and job competence. You were rewarded (in pay and promotions) because of A) your time on the job and B) your relative competence in doing your current job. Good machinist, fork lift driver, or machine operator? You are foreman material – without regard to your communication, organization, or vision.

When it comes to amateur athletics, far too many organizations focus on the skills between the lines, sometimes almost completely ignoring the so-called soft skills that make an effective leader. Probably the number one mistake an organization makes is becoming almost hypnotized by the past on-field exploits of a particular candidate. I think that most people inherently understand why Michael Jordan would not make a great head coach, but that doesn’t stop organizations from making this mistake over and over. The ability to sink three-pointers consistently or throw a 2-2 changeup for strikes does not necessarily translate to effective leadership skills.

Most highly effective military organizations (Army Rangers, Navy Seals, special forces, etc.) understand the importance of leadership to the carrying out of their mission. They do not appoint a leader and move on. It is critical – and lives depend upon the fact – that extremely competent leaders are in place all the way up and down the command structure. The general or colonel (or head coach) will not be available for every decision. In fact, there may be a time when they’re not available at all. That’s why it’s so very crucial that leaders are identified and thoroughly trained.

Whether you’re the athletic director looking to fill the head coaching slot or you’re a head coach with a need to provide solid leadership throughout your coaching staff and support staff, focus on the traits that help you to identify potential leaders, then don’t be afraid to assign to these folks more duties and functions that will help exploit and develop these traits. Finally, have a plan in place to develop these leaders. By not doing so, you will frustrate these potential leaders and force them to make a tough choice down the line. You are also suffocating your organization by not enabling them to breathe in the fresh air of solid leadership.

One very important item here – don’t be threatened by the presence of dynamic leaders on your staff. With the direction of a solid leader like yourself, these folks will prove to be an asset as important to your organization as the cell phone.

Again, this isn’t meant to tell you how to identify, select, and develop potential leaders, but rather a reminder that focusing on this critical area is as important to the growth and success of your organization as what goes on between the lines. Don’t neglect the allocation of a small amount of time in your schedule to staff development. It will pay huge dividends in the long run.

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