Get this right and things tend to fall into place; get it wrong and things tend to fall apart.
Sometimes, helping our clients and athletes requires the process of unlearning things they “know.”
Whether it’s limiting beliefs or habits they think are helping but are actually hurting, unlocking their potential and guiding them to success requires a process of rewiring, so to speak. After 15+ years of helping top-performers achieve peak mental performance, I’ve learned that this also holds true for us as coaches.
The things we think we know about being a good coach sometimes turn out to be backward.
One area I see this happen often is with leadership.
When it comes to helping teams perform their best, athletes reach their peak potential, or clients successfully realize their health and fitness goals, few things have as big of impact as your ability to lead.
Leadership is crucial to your success and the success of those who call you “coach.”
Of course, you probably already knew that.
But unfortunately, it’s also a subject that all too often is written off as a relic, labeled as something that’s either so simple it needs little exploration (“just tell people what to do and give really good pep-talks”), or written-off as an innate quality you either “have or you don’t”.
In this article, I’ll not only tell you why most people are dead wrong when it comes to leadership, I’ll also give you some tools you can use to upgrade your effectiveness as a leader, starting today.
Leadership: Mission critical or just another “tool” in the box?
Before we get too far into things, it’s important to touch briefly on why leadership is important and talk a bit about what will happen if you can’t or don’t lead well.
As a coach working with athletes in a team setting or a trainer helping clients achieve their health and fitness goals, leadership is the catalyst driving the success of everything else you do.
Failure to lead well is something a comprehensive playbook or world-class fitness programs can’t make up for.
Let’s put it this way: as a coach, if you are not able to lead well, your athletes will never reach their full potential, your team(s) will never perform to the level they are truly capable of.
As a trainer, pretty similar situation: fail to lead well and the people you train will leave you for someone who can.
… Even if you know how to draw up the perfect play in the 4th quarter.
… Even if you know how to design a perfect fat loss exercise protocol.
Pretty heavy stuff, right?
As coaches and trainers, this is the gig we signed up for. Effective leadership isn’t one of those “Well it’d be nice to have that…” kind of qualities; it’s downright mission critical.
There’s a lot on the line here, from the success of those we’re working with to the very livelihood of our jobs.
But there’s also incredible opportunity. Because if we can learn to lead and lead well, we have the opportunity to take our success — and the success of those we’re coaching — to greater heights than ever before.
That’s why today, I’d like to delve a bit deeper into what true leadership is and give you some tips on how you can become a better leader.
2 leadership mistakes we make, plus what true leadership DOES
When the concept of “leadership” comes to mind, a lot of people tend to think that basically means telling other people what to do.
This could NOT be further from the truth.
True leadership is so much more than telling those you’re working with — clients, athletes, or employees — what to do.
Just as bad, a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that leadership is simply a personality trait you either have or you don’t.
Again — NOT true.
Are some people more what we might call “natural born leaders”? Probably. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t become a great leader, even if it’s not an area you consider yourself naturally gifted.
I truly believe that no matter where you’re at now on the “leadership spectrum”, whether you’re good or bad or somewhere in between, there are steps you can take to level-up your leadership so that you can get better results for those you coach and make a bigger impact.
But in order to do that, you have to understand what true leadership looks like, and just as importantly, what it does.
At its core, leadership is a skill set based on your ability to do two things:
Build trust with those you’re working with/coaching (cultivated by showing those you’re leading that you genuinely care about them and demonstrating the competence to help them achieve their goals) .
Help those you’re working with achieve the desired outcome (getting results with your clients/helping athletes reach their full potential/build a team that wins more games and demonstrates excellence).
The order these traits of leadership are listed in isn’t by accident. Before you can guide those you’re working with to the desired outcome, there has to be a culture of trust.
THAT’S the foundation of effective leadership.
And quite honestly, it’s an area of leadership where most people — even those who can talk to the talk and appear as naturally gifted outwardly — still struggle.
In his book, The Mentor Leader, Tony Dungy says, “When it comes to effective leadership, it’s not about you and what makes you comfortable or helps you get ahead. It’s about other people.”
True leadership isn’t about YOU — it’s about those who are trusting you enough to lead them to the achievement of their most important goals.
Step number one of effective leadership is creating a culture of trust — a culture where you are working together with your clients/athletes/team toward a common goal. What follows is the development and execution of the behaviors necessary to achieve one’s goals, build a team that wins championships, etc.
But trust comes first.
Get this right from the start, and things tend to “fall” into place; get it wrong, and things tend to fall apart.
So, the real question now is: How can I go about intentionally developing a culture of trust where both my clients/athletes and myself have clarity and focus about what we’re trying to achieve?
That’s what we’re going to cover next.
Mission-led: Creating a shared culture of success and support
As coaches and trainers, our success is our client’s/athlete’s/team’s success.
A “winning culture” is built when your clients/athletes/team feel like you genuinely care about what they care about and are doing everything you can to help them achieve their goals.
The best way to create that environment is through clarity.
You — and those you’re coaching — have to have a sense of mission.
That way, every training session, practice, and competition that your clients or athletes show up for is driven by a purpose, for a purpose.
That kind of focus rarely happens by accident.
Enter: The “MVP” process — my go-to mental performance exercise for creating the kind of focus and mission-led culture that breeds success and support.
“MVP” stands for:
M = Mission. Your mission is your personal statement of purpose. The “why” you do what you do. Missions have no finish line.
V= Vision. Your vision is a list of the outcome goals you are after. Visions have clear finish lines. When creating a personal vision we will select visions/goals for the areas of energy, service, and family. We also break down each of these three categories into subcategories that you can adjust to more specifically fit the needs your clients/athletes. (For example, for “family”, we may break that down into three subcategories of romance, kids, and financial.)
P = Core Principles. Your core principles are the core values or character traits that you are intentionally going to live that make you YOU and provides the best chance for success in achieving your mission and vision.
You know that one of the best forms of leadership is through example, right?
This exercise will carry a whole lot more power if YOU complete it personally before “assigning” it to any of your clients or athletes.
So, start with yourself and then work with your clients and athletes to create their personal MVP Process.
I can’t emphasize this next part enough: The power of this exercise will largely come back to your ability to help those you’re working consistently focus on their personal MVP process.
Scheduling in monthly “mental performance coaching meetings” where you review a client’s or athlete’s MVP process can be a tremendous leadership developmental tool.
In my experience, helping your clients stop long enough to think and get clarity about what their core principles are is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.
It shows them you care. It shows them you’re in this with them.
And in an encouraging, I’m-in-your-corner kinda way, it says “I know what this means to you and I’m here for you — to support, challenge, and encourage you to reach the mission you’ve decided to pursue.”
Having that clarity around who they are and what their core principles are gives them a more clear sense of direction, a greater sense of purpose — a greater sense of mission — that will ultimately drive the habits, behaviors, and routines needed to reach their goals, even when it’s hard.
What to do now
I said it above and I’ll say it again: reading through this article, nodding along and saying “sounds like a good idea” means nothing if you don’t DO something with what you’ve learned.
The only way this will make you a better coach or trainer is if you actually put it into play with those you work with.
So here’s your action plan for today:
Block off some time to evaluate your effectiveness as a leader. Where are you doing well? Where could you improve? Good, bad, or ugly, honestly assess how you’re doing right now. No matter where you fall, remember that where you are now doesn’t have to be where you end up. Leadership is a “skill set” that you CAN grow and develop with practice.
Look at your interactions with clients/athletes you work with… are you doing a good job of establishing trust? Is that a foundation of your leadership? Now — and this may be hard, but it’s worth it — think of a few clients/athletes that are struggling to reach their goals right now, is lack of trust a factor in their struggles? Are you doing your part to help them create focus and mission and tell them “I’m in this with you!”?
Finally, put a plan in place for how you will integrate the MVP process into your coaching, and decide on at least ONE athlete/client that you will implement this within the next week.
Like what we covered today? Then you’ll love this…
What if you had all of the strategies and practical know-how about mental performance training that it takes to help those you work with overcome the obstacles that trip them up and build the habits, routines, and behaviors needed to achieve long-term success?
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Over the past few years I’ve been hard at work, putting everything I’ve learned about mental performance from working with the world’s top performers over the past 15 years into a system that you can use to become the best, most effective coach you can be and get your clients and athletes the results they want.
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