“Leadership is the ability to make those around you better and more productive. Leadership isn’t a rank — it’s not only for the coach, it’s not only for the captain, it’s not only for the seniors. It’s a skill. If I’m the leader, that means everyone else is a follower. I’m not happy with that.”
Jack Clark, Head Coach, University of California Rugby
When a coach with 25 national titles in 33 years speaks on leadership, it’s best to listen and take notes. Jack Clark has been leading the University of California’s rugby program for over three decades. His resume speaks for itself. And his definition of leadership is both simple and profound.
As a reader of this newsletter you are either a coach leading a program, an athlete aspiring to become a leader, or a parent leading your family. One reason I love Clark’s definition is its relevance to each of us regardless of age, sport, role or position.
Leadership is the ability to make those around you better. It isn’t a rank, it’s a skill - and if it’s a skill, then it can be trained.
This leads us to a very important question - how can this crucial skill be trained and developed in our teams and in our lives? Here are three practical ways:
Lasting improvement of any skill will only come when you’re able to track it. In your sport, what are some tangible ways you can make those around you better and more productive? Are there certain stats that can be used? The dynamics of every sport are different so you may have to be creative, but even a simple rubric with a list of ways to make others better will provide a way to measure leadership development.
Value, cultivate, and celebrate selflessness
If leadership is the ability to make others better, then the antithesis of leadership is selfishness. As individual athletes we have to shift the focus from me to we, and view everything through a lens of what’s best for the team. This is something that coaches preach constantly, but it only becomes powerful when a group of individuals decides this is the best way to optimize performance. Any group of athletes can describe in detail the differences between a good teammate and a bad one - have them create these lists and what you will find is a description of selfless vs selfless.
Emphasize the development of life skills
A quick way to lose sight of leadership development is to overemphasize winning. Don’t get me wrong - results are an important part of the picture, but our ability to develop the skill of leadership can easily be weakened by a narrow focus on winning. It’s one of the great ironies of sport - the people who win the most are the ones who have focused on improvement over winning. Focus on developing the skill of making those around you better, and the results will improve as a byproduct.
For the full interview with Jack Clark, please see jensinkler.com