I was racing in the backstroke, in the outside lane of the pool. It was the neighborhood swim team and I was in my early teens. I could see my coach along the edge of the pool, cheering exuberantly and waving his arms as he followed me down the length of the pool. I couldn’t hear much besides the splashing of the water.
I swam harder that race, pulling my arms through the water faster, and kicking vigorously. I was not a fast swimmer, so I just assumed that I was behind the other swimmers and he wanted me to catch up.
I counted down my strokes and slapped the edge of the pool. As my coach pulled me out of the water, I realized my whole team was cheering because I had won the race – my first blue ribbon!
My coach’s encouragement helped me excel in that race, and in other races that summer. I remember our whole team did well under his guidance and training, because he made it fun to work hard and rewarded good results. He cheered us when we did well and gently corrected the mistakes.
I think a few of the leaders I’ve had over the years could have learned a lesson from my coach. I’ve been on teams where the leader never acknowledged any of the hard work the team did, constantly pointing out the errors and failures rather than celebrating the successes. There are going to be ups and downs in any team situation, and people tend to respond to positive feedback more readily than negative. With those leaders, I left every meeting feeling beat down and dejected.
There are also those leaders who are aloof and a step removed from the work of the team. In those situations, it feels like you are working in a vacuum – no feedback, encouragement or correction. That kind of leadership can be nerve-wracking because you have no idea if the leader will swoop in and criticize everything, or be happy with the results.
I like to model the leadership style of my coach, encouraging my teams when they do well, and giving kind, but firm, correction when they get off course. Since I respond to positive, specific feedback, I try to do the same for my teams. It’s more effective to tell someone the particular thing they did well, instead of a general “great job.” I also appreciate being told when I need to improve or strengthen a certain skill or action – being specific really helps me improve.
Encouraging or reprimanding? Involved or distant?
What kind of leader are you?