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Serial Winning Leadership
What the best coaches and leaders do to win year after year
Everyone in sport (or business, for that matter) wants to win, right? But most people insist on "finding their own way" to the top. What if we instead looked to the great coaches who, time and again, walked away with a trophy at the end of the season?
We pay too much attention to the hot coach of the moment - the coach who's recently set a record or won the last championship. We're excited by the flash in the pan, even though slow cooking and turning out something delicious is much harder (perhaps a reach on the metaphor there, but you get the idea).
Yet, if we look hard enough, we can find evidence-backed methods for becoming a serial winner (see Lara-Bercial & Mallett, 2016). Though not a precise formula, there's a framework that requires three essential elements to at least give yourself a chance at sustained success:
Sounds simple, but it's not easy. There's not a specific way you have to do any of these three things. There's not 1 vision that will lead to a championship, but there is a way the vision has to be framed to get your team and organization to buy in and commit. You don't have to have a certain person, but you might need a certain type of person. The environment will vary based on where you live and the culture you're a part of, but the best environments share some common characteristics.
Here's what it takes to be a serial winner.
It starts with vision.
Without painting a clear picture of what it will mean to be successful, the team is unmoored.
Having a clear vision is about clearly illustrating to your constituents what it'll take to succeed. It's operationalizing it. Making it real, tangible, and attainable.
It's about what it takes to win.
Research confirms that for athletes and coaches alike, being able to know what it'll take to be successful is paramount.
This vision is sustained by simplifying the complex, thinking about the long-term, and actively monitoring and reviewing progress. Without any of these, the vision falls apart and becomes just a poster on the wall - an empty, meaningless trope about what we expect from our team.
Without people, vision is nothing.
The question isn't "is this the best person," but "is this the best person FOR US?"
People are what make the vision come to life. For serially successful coaches, their relationships with people are built around 3 powerful beliefs:
Belief in US: a sense that the team can deliver, succeed, and that together we're more powerful than the individuals.
Belief in ME: the coach's sense that they can succeed.
Belief in YOU: The leader instills the belief that their followers can get the job done.
This set of beliefs empowers the athlete to be their best and is an implicit commitment from the coach to the athlete that they'll do their best, too. This act of getting into the thick of things as a leader is a sure sign of commitment and a great leadership move. It signals we're all in this together, and we're more powerful together.
Make the environment work for the people.
Now that you have the right people for you, you have to deliberately craft the culture to get the best out of them.
Too many people just let culture happen. The best create their culture intentionally, every day, with the words and actions they use (or don't).
The environment is really where high performance happens. We wrongly attribute peak performance to the individual and overlook the massive role the environment plays in cultivating the habits and practices that lead to greatness.
Serial success requires a clear set of values, behavioral standards, and norms that people can align around to work toward high performance.
In the case of high performers, the environment has a few key features.
First, it challenges performers to grow continuously. Second, there's a set of high standards and expectations. Third, there's a sense of stability. Fourth, there's a commitment to finding every possible way to make it to the top. And last, the leader has the influence over the entire organization to effectively craft the culture to make it work for the most important people: the performers themselves.
Self-awareness underpins everything.
The most interesting finding in this research is how both coaches and athletes recognize self-awareness as the most important factor for a coach's long-term success. This isn't an accident. Both parties clearly articulate in the research that this self-awareness allows coaches to better motivate their players, build more effective relationships, and appreciate their impact on others.
The most successful coaches start by making sure they understand themselves. This starts with great habits and self-care. Research also suggests that one of the first things we lose as we rise to a position of power is the awareness of our impact on others, so it's even more notable that the best coaches (in terms of serial success) are lauded for their ability to maintain that awareness.
You can't get to where you want to go without knowing where you're starting.
If you want to sustain serial success, you can start by learning more about yourself: what you need, what motivates you, and how other people experience you. You can work on crafting a clear vision, and identifying the values you want to actually uphold (not just espouse) in your organization. And you can surround yourself with the right people - not those who will just say "yes," but those who will make you better.
Like all things high performance, serial winning is simple, but not easy.
Do you have a clear set of values shaping your organizational culture?
What was the last step you took to build your self-awareness?
Can you clearly state your vision in 50 words or less?