WT Business Beat

By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

What a swim coach can teach you about leadership

Much of my professional time is spent talking to executives about their strategies and plans and how the market is evolving.

While we might not talk directly about it, often leadership is at the heart of the discussions. How they are leading one transition or another at their company. How they get buy in. How they communicate with employees and customers.

I’m fascinated by different leadership styles so I often find myself looking for examples of leadership and observing different styles of leadership. When I’m lucky, I find those examples in unlikely places. This past weekend was one of those times.

Both of my sons are on the swim team of our community pool. I was a volunteer timer in lane two of Forest Hollow’s opening swim meet on Saturday.

After each race, the kids would walk back to the team area on a walkway on the other side of a low fence that surrounds the pool. After each race, Coach Adrien would walk to that fence and give them a high five or a fist bump and tell them how great they had done, win or lose.

At the same time, the assistant coach Paul was on the pool deck giving his own words of encouragement before and after races.

Yes, that is what coaches are supposed to do, but after several years of being involved in youth sports that isn’t what always happens.

I’m seeing something special with Adrien and Paul. And it has me thinking about the concept of servant leadership where the focus is on the growth and well-being of the people you are leading. Yes, that sounds like something every leader should have a focus on but we all know that’s not the case.

One of the things that has struck me is how often Adrien and Paul are talking to individual swimmers. At the practices I’ve observed they aren’t just shouting instructions from the pool deck. They are having quick one-on-ones as kids get out of the pool or are taking a break. I see them having these quick exchanges with kids as they arrive and leave.

I’ve asked my sons, what were you talking to coach about? And many times it has nothing to do with swimming. Often it is a joke or observation. When it is about swimming, it is something specific. It is things like, Keep doing that or next time try this. And always encouraging.

Adrien and Paul want to win. That’s obvious but winning comes in many forms. In one particular race, one of our Forest Hollow swimmers came in dead last, not scoring a single point.

There was Coach Adrien at the fence, beaming with pride. “Did you know that was a PR?” he said, indicating she swam a personal record in that stroke. It instantly lifted her spirits.

Of course in the business world trying hard doesn’t cut it. It is all about the win, but it is a journey to get there. You need a team that sticks with you through the wins and the inevitable losses.

Adrien and Paul are doing that. They are building that connection with their team. I see how these kids are reacting to them and to each other. The cheering, the support, etc. These kids want to swim hard and perform for their coaches, for each other, and for themselves.

All teams, whether you are trying to win a swim meet or capture a billion dollar opportunity, need that kind of connection. It starts with your leadership.

Adrien and Paul are doing what every leader should emulate -- the team comes first and the victories, however you measure them, will follow.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jun 21, 2021 at 7:53 PM


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