Guest commentary by Jim Lutz
In every situation, be it a team or a corporation, I believe that loyalty is the basis on which all foundations are built. Just saying you support the decision of those in charge is not enough to completely display loyalty. I have been fortunate to be part of great “teams” where everyone had the same purposes for the overall good of the team and no hidden agendas. I have also been part of “teams” where loyalty was not present, and deception and self-serving agendas were prevalent.
As all great leaders stress the importance of serving others to establish themselves as the leader, you must give loyalty if you ever expect to earn loyalty. Here are five attributes that leaders can convey to establish honesty:
Honesty. You must give truthful and candid information. If you sugarcoat your comments, people may not understand what you are telling them. If you do not feel their effort was their best, share that feeling tactfully. Ask what their thoughts were and always use these as teaching moments. I am fortunate to coach a group of athletes whose efforts are never questioned. The results may not be the success we had planned, but we need to discuss why the results were what they were. Tell them what they need to hear and always challenge them to be better. They will appreciate that you cared enough to go beyond their comfort zone.
Consistent. A coach may be one of the few stable forces in the life of a swimmer. Young people have limited interaction with school teachers, and the ratios are not fair for the teacher or the student to go any deeper than surface level. Hold them accountable on a daily basis. If they get bored with your comments, they are finally getting to the point where conscious thought transitions to autopilot. They do not have to think and they become unconsciously competent. Minimums are just that — minimums. You have no reasons to get upset about what you tolerate. John Wooden said, “A coach is a person who gets people to do things they don’t want to do, to enable them to become the people they want to become.”
Confident. If the first two points are in place, they allow your athlete to take risks and go beyond with the confidence you will be supporting them even for making a mistake. You tell them what you expect from their race strategy, technique and any other items you have been focusing on in their training. If you express disappointment, do it from a lost opportunity, not a bruised ego. The only way they can learn to go beyond is through stressing the focus and not the placing and have an open dialogue for debriefing afterwards.
Desire to excel. Simply put, your athletes want to be better. Again, by building on the previous points, their trust and belief in the coach continues to build. They will crossover and never want to disappoint and they want to be the teammates that others can count on to always get the job done. They will buy into your system and not feel they need to re-invent the wheel to achieve success. They will also look at their participation as an opportunity with gratitude. They do not expect a lot of fanfare for doing what the coach will ask of them. Often, they divert attention to others, as it is not about them.
Inspire by actions. A coach can motivate using various methods. However, do they walk the walk and talk the talk? An athlete with a desire to inspire will not put their self-worth into the results nor do they let the results dictate their emotions. These athletes understand the most valuable gift they can give someone is a good example. These athletes encompass the first four points and continue to challenge themselves to evolve and re-invent themselves in a greater capacity. They will openly share their vision, their goals, and their desires. That way, their teammates will hold them accountable. They do not boast or brag but rather share their passion. They will also invite their teammates to take the ride with them. These athletes enjoy success and never forget that it is not about them. If they can help a teammate succeed, they enjoy the success for their teammate. These are the athletes around whom you want to build your program.
The process of gaining and establishing loyalty is not without challenges or setbacks. You, as the leader, must also go through the process, gain insight and not avoid the difficulties. If they know with 100 percent certainty that you are working in their best interest, you have already cleared the biggest hurdle.
See you on the podium.
Jim Lutz is the Head Age Group Coach for Viper Aquatics in Westfield, Ind. Lutz has coached at the club and college levels for more than 30 years, with stints as head coach at Illinois and Michigan State as well as serving as an assistant at Arizona. He’s also served as a head coach for several club teams. Lutz also is a published author with several books available on Amazon.