Success: How you get there matters
When I was younger I played competitive soccer. We traveled every weekend, we trained more than 4 times a week, we won almost every match. I was immersed in the sport and training, my parents couldn’t pull me away from it. I loved everything about the sport…until I didn’t. It turns out, your coach is just as, if not more important than your team.
My soccer coach when I was younger, while very talented and effective at creating a winning team was also a bully, he was verbally and emotionally abusive and drove our team out of fear. At the young age of 10, I didn’t know any better though, he was the only coach I ever had. All I knew was that we were one of the best teams in Northern California and my skills had never been sharper. My young brain could easily have equated fear and abuse with success because really, that equation was proving true every weekend as my team won consistently.
I trained hard, until around the age of 14, something in me changed. Over time, my coach had eroded my love of the game and my trust in a coach. His temper was strong, his remarks sharp, and there was never any room for error. I stopped caring how good we were. I was miserable. Exhausted and depleted, I found the courage to quit.
I never thought I would play again. Luckily, I went to a high school with one of the best soccer teams and one of the best-known soccer coaches. When I started school as a freshman the head coach chatted with me and let me know he had pulled for me and was excited I would be joining his team. Heavily, I told him that I wasn’t going to be playing, I just couldn’t do it. I was too burnt out and I had no positive association with the game anymore.
By junior year I was feeling more open. I had watched a couple of high school games and I was intrigued. I was willing to try again, I joined though with a cautious eye and great hesitancy. I worked hard but I didn’t give my all, I was still closely watching our coach Josh. Waiting for him to show me his true colors, waiting for the yelling and chastising. Then, during my third game, which happened to be a very important one, I messed up royally. I was playing left-back, I made a weak pass to our center midfielder and the other teams forward intercepted it and scored. I was mortified and embarrassed. I looked over to the bench where I knew Josh was, waiting for my lashing. And to my utter surprise, it never came. Josh looked me dead in the eye, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “Okay, keep going.”
That moment changed everything and it has stuck with me forever. It was the moment Josh won me over. It was the moment I finally felt safe to give it my all. To try, to learn, to fail, to keep going, and to trust a coach. It was the moment I realized things could be different. Leadership could be different. My experience and process could be different. We won that game and the entire league that year. Josh’s style of coaching is not one of fear and intimidation but one of support and understanding. The commitment, hard work, and dedication he gets from his players is unparalleled. And it’s for these reasons he has built one of the most successful soccer programs in Northern California.
As an executive coach, I feel lucky that I got to experience both types of leadership at a young age. Both led to great success. But only one was enjoyable. Only one brought out the best in me. Only one was sustainable and only one led to great commitment and dedication. Josh knew how to build people up, he knew how to build true psychological safety and he knew how to create the right environment for his players to play at their best. It was unequivocally a different experience.
Today, we still celebrate leaders for their success, often writing off their temperament or how they got there. We say, “Yeah, but look at what they built!” Many toxic leaders remain today, because of this fact: fear can often get you successful results but only in the short term. Fear is not a strong long term game plan. The abusive coach I had when I was younger continued to build successful soccer teams but he had to cycle through 5x the number of players and he had to move counties more times than I could keep track of.
Let’s remember, how you get there is just as important as the destination.
Take time to think about how you define success. Are you really successful when your employees or players don’t like or respect their leader? When the internal culture is a burning mess because no one trusts the leadership? I urge anyone to broaden their definition of success so that it encompasses the day to day feelings of their players or employees.
There is the type of success that can suck the life out of you or there is the type of success that can enrich your life and bring you true fulfillment.
Which would you prefer?