10 Lessons For Leading Like A Champion

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be on a championship team?
To be the one who hoists the shiny trophy at the end of a hard fought season?
What if you weren’t only on the team…what if you were the leader of that team?

All of us have those moments where we envision ourselves standing at the end of a big game or contest, coming out the victor. I think there’s something within each of us that has seen enough great sports movies with climactic endings to wonder to ourselves – what if that were me?

While we may not get the chance to win a Super Bowl or a gold medal or score the winning basket, we can still act in ways that will help us to lead like champions right where we’re at. In fact, every team that you’re on or that you lead – whether at work, school, or community – wants to be a winning team. We feel a lot better about success than we do about failure (even though failure has a lot to teach us and is often the path we must take to achieve success…but that’s another post).

Sean Payton: Super Bowl Championship Coach (photo credit: LIFE magazine)

So here is today’s list of 10 lessons each of us must learn if we are going to lead our team like a champion.

1. Ignore the negative voices.

There are going to be all sorts of voices that speak (shout, whisper) into your team’s efforts. Some of those voices will assume the role of critic, of naysayer. But nine times out of 10, the negative voice is merely someone’s opinion. Don’t give it more credit than it deserves. While there will be moments of constructive advice you need to hear, you must filter out the negativity that tries to infiltrate any and every team. It’s contagious and can derail your best efforts.

Do you spend your mental energy on the negative naysayers or on the positive possibilities?

2. Lead with class.

The best way I’ve heard this illustrated is when a coach has told his or her players how to respond to victory. They tell them, “Act like you’ve been here before.” That’s the classy way to win…and it’s a classy way to lose as well. No matter the situation, you maintain your composure. You’re confident and you don’t go crazy. The key to class is to be mindful of the excessive. You don’t overreact. Classy leaders keep their composure throughout the highs and the lows.

What kind of composure do you carry in your leadership luggage?

3. The shape you’re in shapes everything else.

It’s amazing how much better you feel when you’re in shape. Don’t forget that your head is attached to the rest of your body. Your level of fitness has a direct impact on your mental fitness. Strength leads to stamina. This all ties back into the necessity for a leader of others to lead him or herself first. Don’t wait until some type of tragedy hits you to decide you’ve got to do something about your physical health. If you take the time to get in shape (and stay in shape) you’ll feel better, you’ll look better, and I pretty much guarantee that you’ll lead better.

What are you going to do today to build a better body?

4. Prepare for the possible and practice for the probable.

A championship leader will spend time thinking about the future. That’s because he or she doesn’t want to be surprised. They also don’t want their team to be surprised or unprepared for the unexpected. Help those around you to learn to anticipate what’s just around the corner. Give them the tools necessary to respond the right way and not to react the wrong way. There’s a balance here as well. You can’t predict every possible scenario. Spend the majority of your time making sure everyone has the basics down.

Have you spent enough time teaching your team what the basics are in every situation?

5. Know your team.

There’s a difference between a task-oriented leader and a people-oriented leader. If you just need to get stuff done, need to accomplish some tasks that you can’t get done by yourself, you’re probably more task-oriented. But the winning teams, the ones that accomplish the most and find themselves on the successful side of things, are led by people who know and care about their people. Statistics show that people may appreciate their job, but still be unproductive. It is only when workers become engaged (actively using their discretionary effort toward their job) that productivity and pride in one’s work goes up. Leaders must take the time to acknowledge and appreciate their team in personal ways.

Do you actually know your team or only know about them?

6. Don’t make your team guess which version of you is showing up today.

This one is all about consistency. With a championship leader, there is no “wrong side of the bed.” In the face of success and failure, the leader maintains the same level of expectation and encouragement. Team members can’t function at a high level if they’re always concerned about making sure the leader is in the right frame of mind before they approach with an issue or concern. Consistency leads to approachability.

What are the three values that you want people to see in you in every situation or encounter?

7. Be willing to act in big picture ways in snapshot moments.

Sometimes you will need to give something up in order to go up to the next level. In the moment, it may appear that you’re losing something, but sometimes that’s necessary in order to achieve the greater goal. You might need to move your team around to better fit their strengths, causing some to be initially uncomfortable. You might need to say no to expenditures now so you’ll have dollars on hand for what’s most important. You might need to step back and wait until you’re team is better positioned to move ahead. Sometimes a sacrifice in the moment is necessary for success in the end.

What do you need to scrap today in order to be more successful tomorrow?

8. Value time – yours and others.

Time is the one resource that every single person has the same amount of. When it comes to the issue of time, everyone is on a level playing field…until it comes to how we manage that time. If you can’t manage the clock, the clock will manage you. There’s potential in every minute. But we’ll miss out on that potential if we don’t properly use it. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”

How will you make sure you don’t miss your moment today?

9. You win only if everyone on your team wins.

It takes a team to win a championship. Even in sports where there is only one person who stands on the podium at the end, there are a host of people who helped get him or her there. I love what John Maxwell says, “One is too small a number for greatness.” If you find a way to win for some of your team, but not all of your team, it’s not really a win. The best leaders (the championship ones!) will point to their team when the microphone points at them. They’ll also be quick to take the responsibility upon themselves when the team is less than successful.

Is everyone on your team going to feel like the trophy is their trophy when you win?

10. Keep your head in the heat of the moment.

This is somewhat of a summary statement for many of the lessons listed above. You can do everything right, to get everyone ready, and then blow it right at the moment of execution. Don’t panic. If you panic, the members of your team will panic. If you lose your cool, it will fuel the emotions of those around you. When you lose your head in the moment you lose your grasp on the options.

Does the temperature in the room change when circumstances change because of your leadership?

What are some of the other lessons you have seen from championship leaders? Share them with us in the comments below.