14 Leadership Tips for Aspiring High Performance Managers

It would be fair to say that with the proliferation of Sport Science / Human Movement education paths in the last ten years at some point we are going to end up like lawyers…a “dime a dozen”.  Further, with the cavalcade of young graduates pursuing advanced degrees e.g. PhD, the environment will get further “muddied” with the weight of qualification.

As an industry we are still in an adolescent phase.  Unlike medicine and physiotherapy, there is no clear authority guiding standards of practice and skill attainment.  Certainly there are any number of groups endeavoring to fill this space i.e. NSCA, ASCA, ESSA, UKSCA. However, the fact remains that you are not required by law to possess affiliation or membership to any of these bodies in order to gain employment (certainly in Australia anyway).

So what is going to be the differentiators in the years to come?  Clearly, everybody employing staff is looking for more “practical” experience, and if anyone is like me they are conducting practical examinations to ensure that who they hire is in fact, what they say they are.

And what about the big end of town…the illustrious High Performance Manager?  Far more difficult to assess their skills.  At some point professionals will be endeavoring to step up from S&C Coach, Sport Scientist or Senior Physiotherapist to take on this constantly developing and expanding role.

It’s definitely a new space for employers to be investigating.  The best advice I can offer to young professionals trying to crack these roles is to share my experience of walking into an unfamiliar sport (six years ago I moved from Rugby Union to AFL) and presenting to an examination board how I would run the environment should I be given the opportunity.  What follows are the qualities that I have attempted to convey in my last two job interviews  (Wallabies & FFC).  These are by no means laws, but they are a collection of tenets that I have been privileged to learn off people far more successful than myself.

Vision - It is impossible to lead an environment without vision.  A clear vision can inspire, motivate and sustain.  The clarity of a leader's vision defines many of the actions of his/her staff. 

Integrity - "Do as you say you are going do" and “do the right thing because it is right”.  Staff will look to their leader for guidance and trust in their directions.  Trust is built on integrity.

Resilience - Nothing worth having is quickly built.  Professional sport is a harsh mistress!  You need to be able to take knocks and keep coming back for more.  Clarity of Vision will keep you on the path.

Performance - While a leader does not need to know everything…they certainly must be able to perform.  I’ve seen a few HP managers in recent years ascend their ivory tower and direct traffic from there…they haven’t lasted long, and the people they work with haven’t had much good to say.  Know your core skills and make sure you use them within the construct of the team - don’t be just a delegator!

Humility - Keep an open mind!  While experience offers us many learning opportunities that our younger staff may not have been exposed to yet, it doesn’t mean we know everything.  Leaders who are not growing can’t lead a growing environment.

Ego - A big ego is a poor leadership trait.  A quiet confidence in your ability should be evident but not overbearing, as this will engender trust, loyalty and confidence.

Communicate - Clear, concise and multidirectional (listen don’t just speak)!  Remain vigilant…communication challenges arise all the time based on fluctuations in a myriad of interpersonal factors.  

Emotional Intelligence - A common saying in AFL is “read the play”.  The ability to “read” interpersonal situations and apply the appropriate response will guide your team through the tough times.

Adaptability - There is no “yellow brick road”.  If the path forward were that clear anybody could run a professional team.  Understand your Vision and figure out how to achieve it.  If Plan A doesn’t work…there are 25 other letters to try!

Next Step - Highly correlated to Vision.  Don’t become comfortable or compliant with your current practices.  Search for truth and challenge your current practices.  Lead change and innovation.

Know Your People - Athletes and staff.  Understand the environment, the pressure points and the pressure valves.

Accountable - Accept responsibility where necessary and don’t take credit for the success of the team.  If you are not accountable to your people, you will be held accountable by your people.

Culture - Get the right people on the bus.  No amount of talent will make up for a defective culture.  Culture must be created, not allowed to manifest by default.

Courage - There is no courage without fear.  Go beyond your perceived limitations.  Vision will give you direction and Courage will allow you to see it to its end!

Good luck




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