What teaching gymnastics taught me about leadership
A leader is more often defined as someone who is followed. We all know leaders, because we are all inspired or engaged by someone in our lives. They can be a former teacher, a boss, a parent, a partner, a friend or a coach. We all have leaders in our lives and we all hope to be a leader of some kind to those around us. You might not win the Manager of Year award, but you can be a leader in your local community, in a school, in your group of friends or in your own household.
In my life I have always aspired to be a leader to the wonderful boys & girls I teach gymnastics to. Someone who encourages them, who challenges them and inspires them. Someone they can depend upon and they can trust, because no one will be more brutally honest with you than children. If you are being a bad leader, they will let you know. And I love that.
When I first started teaching gymnastics at 16, I was teaching preschoolers the very beginnings of gymnastics. And the first thing they taught me was you cannot just be ‘one leader’. You have to be many leaders. You have to be the encourager. The tough love teacher. The confidence builder. The perspective giver. You can’t just be the encourager if you want to lead a whole group of people, because all of their needs are different at different times. This makes leadership endlessly challenging & interesting.
The second thing I learned was to be aware of the impact you have. At a later stage in my life I was teaching older children hitting puberty. They go through a stage where they are insecure about literally ANYTHING. That age where the words ‘self love’ are almost unspeakable. We kid ourselves that we don’t have an impact on other people. We think that what we say or do doesn’t have an impact on others, while one slip of the tongue might convince them they are worthless or dumb for quite a while. This is no different at work. Choose your words & actions carefully if you are a leader, because they will have an impact.
Thirdly, leadership is an endless endeavour. You can be a follower just like that. Forever. But you can and will not be a leader one time and then forever. It is an endless string of smaller and bigger actions. Moments that strung together make a whole. What do I mean?
Name one action that will make someone an immediate leader? Difficult, right? Now name one action that makes someone an immediate non-leader? Easy. Cheat, lie, harass or threaten anyone and you can be an immediate non-leader. Like reputation, leadership is difficult to build and easy to destroy.
Now apart from being completely frightening, leadership is also amazingly rewarding. Think about the impact some of your leaders have had on your life. That one manager. That one teacher. And how they have impacted your life. Now, wouldn’t it be amazing to be just like them?
I dedicate this article to my first manager Fernando, who inspires me every day to be the best leader possible, because YES we can change lives.