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April 29, 2016 • Coaching

How to identify advanced leaders on your team

What’s an advanced leader anyway? I once read a great article at the Harvard Business Review’s blog about them and thought it’d be great to put the coaching spin on it. Here’s the author’s take on the difference between leaders and advanced leaders:

“Fred Astaire was certainly a great leader,” the author wrote. “He had a goal. He could see where he was going. He was clearly in charge. He set direction. He led Ginger Rogers around the dance floor flawlessly. But Ginger Rogers was an advanced leader. She had to do everything Fred did, while backwards and in high heels.”

Here is why we all need advanced leaders on our teams.

1. They can work in complex systems.

The article discusses being able to lead where there are many leaders, and that’s most certainly any team.

You may have identified leaders or captains, but there are bound to be other leaders on your team. They may be freshmen or sophomores, or they may not get much playing time, so they’re lying in the weeds waiting for an appropriate time to assert themselves.

The person who understands time and place, who has their team’s respect, and is willing and able to present their concerns or ideas to you is most certainly an advanced leader. Even if they don’t have a “C” on their jersey.

2. They dance to their own tune.

And this is why they may ruffle a few feathers of their older, more established teammates. All of the things that your team has “done for years,” those are the things your advanced leaders will challenge. They aren’t the folks quietly waiting until their senior year for their time to shine — advanced leaders want to (and will) shine now.

The upside is that your leaders rise to the top and the followers fall in line. Also, you’ll get to groom your future leaders before they’re actually on the hot seat.

3. They challenge established patterns.

I just talked about how great these advanced leaders are because they’ll challenge the status quo, but that’s also why they’ll drive you crazy.

Your older players will think these advanced leaders are arrogant and not “team players,” and they might complain to you about them. In my opinion, the more nuanced view is that they’re leaders in need of an acceptable way to spread their wings. That’s where the creative coach gives these advanced leaders ways to express themselves that aren’t off-putting to their teammates. That same coach will remind them that their teammates have to like and respect them in order to listen to them. Perhaps that coach will tell them that they’ve got to create relationships before they’ll be allowed to challenge the way the team operates.

Your team needs advanced leaders. I don’t know the makeup of your team, but I do know that all teams can benefit from this type of leader. It will keep you on your toes and guide your team to new heights.


Dawn Redd is the head volleyball and assistant track & field coach at Beloit College in Wisconsin.

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