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Authentic Leadership Lessons from Pete Carroll

January 29, 2014 • Uncategorized

My daughter Meg walks towards me in her gymnastics leotard, with a big smile and beads of sweat dripping down the side of her face.  Before I can even start the car and ask how practice went, she tells me: “Mommy, I love Jane—you know, the new coach?”  “That’s great,” I tell her.  “Tell me, what do you love about her?”  “She’s happy, Mommy.  You can tell she wants to be there and she really wants me to do well.”

Rewind to five minutes earlier, when my oldest daughter gets in the car fresh off a soccer practice.  “Steve is mean,” she says, unequivocally.  “Your coach, Steve?” I ask.  “Yes,” she replies.  “He got so frustrated when we didn’t do a couple of moves right and started yelling at us.”

Welcome to my world.  Coaching is one of the most challenging professions, and there is no one style or philosophy of coaching that is the “right” one.   The same applies to leaders in other industries.  There are all kinds of approaches to leading.  How can you connect with your team members and create a positive culture, without sacrificing things like toughness and accountability?

On Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks will compete for a Super Bowl ring under head coach Pete Carroll.  He’s a guy that has sometimes been dismissed for being too “soft” or too “New Age” in his approach.  A guy that some said could never succeed in the pros because this stuff could only fly with college kids.  Pros would never buy into it.

Now check out this feature from a few months ago on Carroll from ESPN The Magazine.  I don’t know Carroll personally, but I love that he seems to be authentic in his leadership philosophy.  This is his approach because it’s what he believes in and it’s who he is and how he connects.  Just this week, Carroll finished atop a NFL Nation poll that asked players which head coach they would most like to play for. The message is, when we as leaders create safe environments for our teams, they respond better.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t give them feedback or hold them accountable—in fact that is a major part of building safe and authentic environments.

We do team development work with both sports teams and corporate teams.  One of the reasons we started in this work was that so often teams don’t take the time to connect and build positive cultures. At the end of the day, there is a middle ground, somewhere between my daughters’ gymnastics coach (a future Caroll?) and soccer coach (a future Belichik?).  As leaders, we have a tendency to overcomplicate things, to overthink what motivates people.  Aren’t authentic connections and relationships what drive all meaningful work?   There is a lesson from Carroll’s approach that we can all learn from.  We all might be able to learn from and implement a few things, so we too can play in our respective Super Bowls.

The Molly Fletcher Company inspires leaders, teams and organizations to kick-start growth. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working as a sports agent. Her company’s Game Changer Negotiation Training workshops teach business people the framework for successful negotiating, so that you can close more deals while building stronger relationships. Sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter and subscribe to the Game Changers with Molly Fletcher podcast on iTunes.