Leadership:

A Humble Perspective

What is Leadership? How does it differ from management?

The classical view of an overbearing boss with non-negotiable goals, rounding up their team and charging off to the horizon is an artifact within modern management. The concept of managing an organization has evolved over the last few decades. From this evolution, a new term of leadership has been born. Leaders have the ability to lead, to inspire others in a shared vision, and possess the aptitude to communicate these visions to their employees. They develop their teams while fostering an environment that encourages personal growth, taking risks, recognition and rewards, and empowerment allowing other leaders to emerge and achieve new goals throughout the process.  

This all sounds great, right? Well, oftentimes, the terms leadership and management get intertwined and are thought to be the same concept. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In my experience as a student-athlete, I would define a managerial approach as a way of following strict rules as opposed to leaders who push the boundaries of their creativity.  As Abrahak Zaleznik states it best in his article Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?; “where managers act to limit choices, leaders work in the opposite direction, to develop fresh approaches to long standing problems” 

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Coaching

Having played on various teams throughout my athletic career, I have had many different coaches who have all taught me very different lessons: some on what I should do, and others on what I should definitely not do based on their style of leadership. As an athlete, your coach needs to be your team’s leader, which is exactly why every sports team has their own manager and a separate coach. These two roles are very different, and I’ve experienced them firsthand. The team manager is the one who coordinates all of the logistics. Where we will stay when we travel, what food we are eating, etc. Without managers many teams (and organizations) would collapse. While they do great work, they do not have a lasting impact. Coaches, on the other hand, do. Figures like Phil Jackson and Bill Belichick are some incredible coaches who stand out past any manager. Why, you may ask? Because these individuals exceed what anyone thought could be done. They find unique ways to train their athletes, creative ways to teach them lessons, and even serve as an inspirational figure for them. These leaders are the ones that go down in history.  

Last year, I spent a year training for the National Team, and my coach was one of the most inspirational humans I have ever been around. Every day he was journaling on what went well in practice and what didn’t. We pushed our bounds every day, tried new things, and by the end, our improvement was astronomical. A creative way in which he pushed us was in the way he organized teams for every drill we did. Most times, we would be separated into very different teams when we would compete during practice, and the purpose was to combine everyone’s strengths all while working together towards a common goal: winning. As Michael Jordan famously said: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships”. My coach’s ability to get my teammates and I to collaborate was a great way of preparing us for life beyond volleyball. 

Being a Princeton student-athlete, I aspire to work in investment banking or consulting after college, and both of these roles have projects that require group work. My coach’s leadership ability enabled me to experience the importance of collaboration through our many practices and drills. While I did appreciate having a manager on our team who took care of basic needs, I’ll never forget the impact my coach made on me as both a player and a man, and it was all because he was our leader.

Internship

This summer I’m lucky enough to be working my internship here at Stradea where I’ve been able to help the company with various tasks they needed. Along the way, I’ve been able to connect with clients and my co-workers, learn more about the company, and getting real-world work experience. I wanted to touch on the way my boss assigns tasks for me. Throughout my first month here, my boss has been a big advocate for me to push my bounds and really try new things. Every Monday, we have a call in the morning to talk about and any company news along with upcoming meetings for the week. Not only this, but we discuss the work we are going to do for the week. This differs greatly from your traditional to-do list where X number of tasks need to be done in Y amount of time.  

My boss makes these things seem more valuable through a process called gamification. By challenging yourself to do your best and treat things like they’re a game, you end up working to the best of your ability. One example that is clear in my mind is when I was creating this article for the website, my first writing project, I was told to play around with different ideas, have fun with it, and contact him for any clarification. A manager would have said: “Please complete this task by Monday, and it must be the way I say”. So, I am grateful that my boss has a style of leadership that allows me to feel as though my opinions and thoughts matter, which motivates me to work even harder. 

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Another element I’ve admired is after our client meetings, we stay online, and the project lead will discuss how the meeting went. The lead(s) give examples on how by listening to our clients and pivoting on the spot, we were able to guide the discussion. Our leader always promotes our team when we do well and take time to discuss with us (personally) where we need to improve. I appreciate the gamified approach to their learning and development. Our CEO and Director of Customer Experience are constantly gaining experience points and level ups. I am still not entirely sure what it means, but there is a story to each and every challenge to acknowledge of each other. In many ways this internship has shown me how athletics and the business world have some very concrete similarities. 

In conclusion.

As I have come to view the terms, I relate a manager to a level of power that helps delegate tasks and keep day to day operations going.  They are vital to the success of a team or company. I did not examine the different styles of management, but I know we all have “those” managers, and even fewer “those awesome” managers. Managers can inspire and have the ability to create a positive work culture. However, it is a leader that can exudes a unique x-factor. A leader will inspire their team/athlete/employee to strive for excellence by thinking of creative ways to motivate and teach them. This reflection serves to show personal examples of how I have been faced with both leadership and management, how the terms are different, and the different impact each term can have on a team or organization. 

 

In closing, I hope you’ve found this review enlightening and that you can relate. 

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