In Junior High School, track and field, basketball and volleyball were big sports in my school. So was dodge ball (anyone see that movie?). Physical education was a requirement each year for passing to the next grade and then a requisite for graduation, so we all played every sport.
In those days, I was fair at best in track and field, decent in basketball and volleyball, and excellent at dodge ball. I could throw the ball really hard and catch the balls that were thrown back as hard if not even more so.
When first learning the game, I wasn’t so crazy about it. Some people were poor losers, some avoided throwing and getting hit, and some were so aggressive that we all knew there was a possibility someone could get hurt. And yet, in order to get the credit for this course so we could pass and move up to the next grade and then move onto high school, we had to play the game. What did I learn? The fact that I could take a “hit,” remain standing, and continue to play. Winning the game was the ultimate reward.
The next best sport was Volleyball. Same concept as dodge ball: learn the game, develop skills, and enter the competition. At 5’6” my serve was powerful, my net game was fair, and volleying skills were good. My role on the Team was to try to win points on my serve and then get the ball to the best net players – a very different role than when I played dodge ball and was one of the stars. Now, the challenge was to take my skills to a higher level in a different game and win as a team.
Going down memory lane took me to the present and the work that leaders do. Sports are a lot like leadership: you need to know where you’re best placed (the sport); what role you have on the Team (your job); and what you need to do to have your team/business win (your leadership).
Let’s say that you were a volleyball player in high school – the best in the school, county, state, etc. You then earn a scholarship to play at the collegiate level. The game is basically the same; yet, the competition is significantly tougher and you have to take your skills to the next level. You excel at the collegiate level and make the Olympic Team – still the same basic game, yet to make the Team you have to push yourself to develop muscles you didn’t know you had and you have to play at a level you have never experienced.
And so it is the same with leadership. What got you to the level or position you are in today may not be enough to allow you to compete and excel in the future. And yes, leadership is a competition.
There is definitely a game that is being played – it’s called culture – and there are people who are able to adapt and excel at every level because they work on their leadership skills.
The skills and abilities that got you to a leadership position will not necessarily be enough to keep you there. The competition, required skill set, and expectations of leadership evolve along with a business or the expectations of customers/clients. You can find examples of leaders who didn’t, or stopped, doing the work. Their companies are in turmoil, or they are losing market share and/or talent because they didn’t stay connected to their employees, consumers, and customers.
When performance isn’t there, when the vision is outdated and the passion for the company and products/services are not present, it is a failure of leadership at all levels. If you want to see some examples, start with retail. No industry, no profession is exempt from the loss or decline of leadership vision and competencies.
Leadership is a “sport” – it requires a continual evolution of your skill set and your leadership competencies. In addition to looking outward, leaders also need to look at themselves – they are part of the problem and definitely part of the solution.
There are many sources of information and support available to leaders today. What are you doing to move your skills and competencies to the “Olympics” level?
It’s not how you see yourself that builds a leadership legacy – it’s how others see you.