Leaders in Profile: Developing Winning Leadership in Competitive Sports
11/18/2012 12:00 AM ,
“Leadership is getting others to want to do something you are convinced should be done.” With that quote from Jim Kouzes’ and Barry Posner’s work, The Student Leadership Challenge, I finally understood that leadership is all about behaviors—behaviors that are perceived by others to be real and authentic, because they are. I came to understand that leadership is about respect and a passionate commitment that motivates others to action. That’s the inspiration and clarity I needed to begin my journey to mastering the art of leadership.
Growing up in a close-knit community, and as an active athlete in competitive sports, I had plenty of role models and mentors who helped guide me. My parents, teachers, coaches, and peers instilled in me a set of core values that gave me the confidence to go off to college 3,000 miles away. Leaving family and friends behind on the east coast, I arrived at the University of Oregon as a freshman starter for the University’s Division I Women’s Lacrosse Team. It took me no time at all to realize that in this new environment, being this far from home and engaging at this level of competitive play, more than ever I had to trust my peers and teammates, and follow and respond to their leadership.
Watching and learning from others as they modeled effective leadership helped me become clearer about my own beliefs and values. However, the real turning point for me was when I got the chance to participate in a summer program of The Student Leadership Challenge Workshop held at the University. Experiencing first-hand how The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® could work in my own life dramatically changed my view of leadership in general and of myself as leader.
Every leadership book I’d read and course or seminar I’d taken prior to the workshop had basically provided the same definition of leadership and only very generic information about what it takes to be a leader. It was as though all leaders are the same. But not The Student Leadership Challenge. The Student Leadership Practices Inventory (Student LPI) assessment, in particular, was beyond eye-opening for me. The Student LPI was different from anything I’d experienced before. It not only laid out a very clear model of what exemplary student leaders do when they are at their best; it showed me specifically what I needed to do to be a better leader. That personal insight is what truly allowed me to grow and excel as a leader in every aspect of my life—especially as an athlete and being part of a team.
In competitive sports, just as in business, building strong bonds with people is what makes for a cohesive team. And these personal relationships have to be built on honesty and trust. Everyone thinks and feels differently, and has concerns that need to be heard and acknowledged. As a team leader, it was crucial that everyone knew they could come to me, that I was readily available to listen—even if I didn’t agree. And when times got tough, that’s when trust and those personal relationships really mattered.
There always are times when things don’t work out the way you planned. In business, you might lose contracts. In sports, you lose some games. As a team, you don’t play as well as you know you can. There are disappointments. But in my role as a leader of a competitive sports team, I found it vital to take negatives and turn them into positives, to help my teammates or colleagues see that every challenge was a potential opportunity. Taking a losing game that often could be demoralizing to the team, I would focus on what we did right. Of course, we had to look at our own mistakes and where we failed to take advantage of openings our opponents might have given us during the game. But the important thing I tried to zero in on was how we could learn from these mistakes and make them work for us in the next match. For example, leading the lacrosse team to our first-ever winning season and conference win as a program was not always easy, but being able to face those obstacles together as a team is what made us successful. During games where we were making unnecessary mistakes and really not playing at our best, we were able to stop and recognize the mistakes we were making and refocus on what we needed to do differently. Despite the frustration, we made sure that we listened to each other and kept the discussion open until we found a solution we all agreed would move us forward to a successful outcome.
With everyone on our Women’s Lacrosse team being highly competitive, striving to do their best, another important aspect of building a healthy, positive team was accountability. And practicing that important leadership behavior started with me. I’ve always tried to set the example: to hold myself accountable for my actions, for what I’m striving to achieve, and for making sure that my personal goals align with those of the team. In fact, that is one factor that played a role in my becoming a team captain—in just my second year on the team, as a sophomore. Initially, gaining the respect of my older teammates while also proving to the team and coaches that I had what it took to be an effective leader was a challenge. But in the end, it was clear that age didn’t matter. I was able to demonstrate that I held myself accountable for putting my words into action. As a younger member of the team, I didn’t say much. Instead, I followed in the footsteps of my two older co-captains and focused on doing rather than just talking about what I wanted to do or what I could do. It proved to be a very important learning as I became a team captain myself.
For me, respect, responsiveness, and integrity also are essential to being an effective student leader. Respect is a two-way street—while it’s important to earn the respect of others it is equally important to respect others, too. I believe in the saying, “Treat others as you would want to be treated” and throughout my day I try to make sure that I show respect to those around me. It’s especially important when meeting people for the first time to keep an open mind and give them the respect that you would want them to give you.
As a leader—and really as a person—it is also very important to stay engaged, not only in your own life but also in the lives of others. It’s not about me leading others in a vacuum, or leading based on just what I think. Being responsive means that I need to stop and listen to others’ wants, needs, and concerns and from that create a goal or a vision we all can share.
And to keep all of that in balance, I think integrity might be the most important component of all. Although it is important to respect and be responsive to others, as young people we can sometimes get too caught up in the needs, wants, and concerns of our peers and, in the end, lose our way. That’s why integrity is so critical. We need to always remember to be proud of who we are, what we believe in, and what we stand for.
Leadership is a continuing journey, one I am still on. Every day I ask myself, “What can I do to be better? What can I do to move ahead in my journey?” And most importantly I ask myself if I am happy with the person I am as a leader. My hope is that the legacy I leave at the University of Oregon and one I will continue to build on going forward will be that people will remember me as someone with whom they formed a trusting relationship and who made a positive impact on their lives. As I move beyond graduation in spring 2013, I hope one day to become part of an athletic program where I can help the next generation of student-athletes accomplish their goals, hopes, and dreams—just as all those along the way have helped me.
Colleen Taggart is currently a student leader at the University of Oregon, working toward graduating in spring 2013 with a double major in Psychology and Sociology along with a double minor in Business Administration and Sports Conflict Resolution. Captain of the University’s Division 1 Women’s Lacrosse Team for three years, Colleen twice earned First-Team All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Honors, was named to the Mountain Pacific Sports Federations All-Tournament Team, and was selected in her junior year to attend the NCAA Career in Sports Forum—while maintaining a 3.00 GPA or higher for three consecutive terms. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Category: Success Stories