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”
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.