Company Leadership: Learning to Lead
I was just talking to one of the tenants in our office building about learning to lead. This naturally put me in the mood to share a great technique. Learning to lead others is a process that takes time. It is impossible to read a book and suddenly become the world’s best manager/leader. It takes time. It takes making mistakes.
In 1993 at the ripe old age of 25, I was offered the opportunity to manage the entire OS/2 team at KaseWorks; 20+ people, multiple groups. Holy Shit! I did an internal inventory and decided that I lacked the emotional maturity and leadership skills to perform that job competently. Looking back I believe, career-wise, that I made a mistake. I should have taken the job. But I wasn’t inactive about it. I realized that I had an avenue to get the skills I was lacking. I went back to coaching.
I had been playing softball since I was in 6th grade. (I had been playing baseball but I got cut from my Little League team for the terrible mistake of being a girl. It wasn’t my coach; it was the other coaches. I like to believe they were afraid of me!) I also played softball in college and in the college town league during the summer. It was the townies who started me on my coaching career. We went to a lot of tournaments and the coaching responsibilities rotated. We got paired up but I was still the youngest person on the team so it was scary. Boy, did I make mistakes. But the team was very good at mentoring me! I supposed I was forgiven for many transgressions due to lack of experience and my young age. You don’t get that kind of forgiveness at work.
The end result of my returning to coaching in 1993 was the creation of the Women’s Recreational Softball division in the Hotlanta! Softball league in Atlanta, GA. One of the fundamental rules of the division was that if you join you got on a team. So, much to my surprise, that first year I had to quickly pull together coaching, support staff, and sponsorship for two teams. (Yes, I needed a support staff because I had 6 deaf players join and I needed interpreters). That first year we played against the Women’s Competitive division with the rule that they were supposed to be nice to us. (Most of the teams complied, there are always buttheads.) I walked away from the Rec division after 4 years. When I left it was a stand-alone division with 13 teams. I always coached the ‘left-over’ people. Which was great because not only did I have to teach them the game; they rarely knew anything about team sports. This was one set of skills.
During the time I was coaching the recreational teams, I was also coaching B/C level tournament teams. A totally different set of skills because these women knew how to play ball. My role became more of a leadership strategy role than a teaching mentoring role. Also A LOT of ego juggling.
Through these experiences I have learned that I love to coach. I love to mentor people, see them reach higher then they thought they could. Winning is no longer defined by the score on the scoreboard but by the quality of the game. I have learned to care about the people; to focus on them. It might surprise some of you to know that my teams often do very well. Not because I can teach them the fundamental skills of hockey, (I coach ice hockey now) because I can’t and I don’t. My teams do well because I care about the people. I watch each player and I figure out what she needs to play her best and to have fun. I provide a support structure through my commitment, actions, and strategy that encourages their individual development. I invite guest coaches to help at practices to teach skills I can’t and to provide more one-on-one for the players. I make sure that each player gets to work on something important to them. And because I focus on each individual and I think about team cohesion. My teams do well.
So I suggest that if you want to learn to lead. Lead. Learn by doing. Find something you know and go help a group that wants you and will support you as you learn. Coach a sports team, lead a discussion group, volunteer. But put yourself out there. Take a chance. You will find that you get far more back than you gave.