Choose Your Leaders With Care

If you want to see countless books on the same subject matter, search for books on leadership. You will see endless titles focusing on the keys to being a good leader; Servant Leadership, The Five Levels of Leadership, The Leadership Secrets of Nick Saban, The Dichotomy of Leadership, Strengths Based Leadership, and on and on. The most significant challenge when writing a book on leadership might be coming up with an original title.

Seeking out good leaders in a team environment can be a challenge. In all honesty, it should be challenging. The easy way of assigning leadership duties is to seek out good players who carry themselves confidently and are unafraid to speak their minds. Although these personality types are often perceived as leaders, they may not be the best choice.

Research indicates that “a positive correlation between speaking time and leader emergence is well-established. The term for this is identifier of leadership is “babble hypothesis,” suggesting that only the quantity of speaking, not its quality, determines leader emergence.”

If we only use a confident demeanor or the number of spoken words as the leadership criteria, we may sacrifice the leadership quality. Many teammates will always follow a leader down the wrong path.

Solomon Asch

People following someone speaking or behaving confidently was the topic of a study by psychologist Solomon Asch in the 1950s. Asch conducted a series of now-famous experiments on the dangers of group influence. Asch gathered student volunteers into groups and had them take a vision test. He showed them a picture of three lines of varying lengths. He asked questions about how the lines compared with one another: which was longer, which one matched the length of a fourth line, and so on. His questions were so simple that 95 percent of students answered every question correctly. But when Asch planted actors in the groups, and the actors confidently volunteered the same incorrect answer, the number of students who gave all correct answers plunged to 25 percent. A staggering 75 percent of the participants went along with the group’s wrong answer to at least one question.

The video represents the Asch study in action.

How might we get beyond the bravado of some players to focus on identifying quality leadership? Inside a team, there will be a variety of personalities and abilities. Some of the best leaders may be someone other than the ones that dominate team meetings or who are good players.

In a 2021 YouGov survey, 52% of Americans consider themselves “more introverted than extroverted.” Another 12% considered themselves “completely introverted.” There isn’t a reason that these numbers would drastically change inside the makeup of a team. If we combine the two groups, approximately 64% of your team tends to have introverted characteristics. Generally, players with introverted characteristics won’t be immediately vocal in a group setting. That doesn’t mean their thoughts or opinions are without value or that these players are incapable of leadership. It means there must be an effort to bring these opinions to the forefront. Thus, finding good leaders on your team can be challenging.

Susan Cain

In her book Quiet, best-selling author Susan Cain extensively studies introverts’ characteristics and hidden potential. Cain states, “In a typical meeting, three people do 70% of the talking. This dynamic is a ‘dangerous’ one as it can lead to bad ideas being followed when perhaps there was a better, unspoken path all along.” According to Cain, introverts prefer thinking about their ideas in private before sharing them with a group. In contrast, extroverts are more comfortable speaking out promptly and sharing their thoughts, often without much thought.

Cain recommends the ‘Think, Pair, Share’ method for leaders to bring their teams’ ideas together. The method involves inviting people to think about a task or problem individually, after which they are paired to share their ideas. This one-on-one safe space, she said, results in greater participation across the board in teams.

Things to Consider

How might volleyball coaches take these concepts and establish an atmosphere that allows introverts and extroverts to share their perspectives equally? By allowing all to have a voice, different leadership patterns might emerge.

Dr. Terry Liskevych
  • One of my mentors, Terry Liskevych, told me long ago to have team meetings to go over travel logistics, game plans, etc., but to avoid attempting to resolve a team issue with team meetings. As mentioned above, only a few players will tend to dominate the conversation and may not accurately reflect the group’s feelings. Solicit thoughts from players individually or in small groups. You will probably get more honest and heartfelt thoughts from players that will lead to a path forward.
  • Don’t let the extroverted players on teams dominate discussions. Implement the “Think, Pair, Share” approach that Cain recommends. You will find that introverts on your team will be very cautious and conscientious in formulating opinions and thoughts. The tendency to not speak impulsively could lead to a comment that is well thought out.
  • Many coaches have “captains meetings” to get a pulse of the team. Do these meetings have value? Potentially, yes, but remember, in many situations, captains were selected because they talk a lot. It doesn’t mean that what they say is accurate or reflective of the group’s thoughts. Captain’s meetings are fine, but take the time to solicit opinions and ideas from a broad spectrum of the team.
  • Take an idea from one of your introverts and put the idea into action. There is nothing like positive strokes to encourage future sharing from all team members.

Positive leadership can come in many forms. What is said, at times, is overrated. Leadership by behavior in times of stress is more impactful. One of the best leaders I’ve had on an outstanding team was not even in the starting line-up. But there was no player that better reflected the goals of the squad. An example of a team-first mentality might be when she ran and completed the Cleveland Marathon on a Sunday and was the first player in the weight room at a 7:00 am conditioning session the following day. She was sore and tired, but her commitment to the team was unconditional. Teammates see this commitment and bestow leadership upon her based on actions, not words.

Both introverts and extroverts can excel as good leaders. Coaches might need to help the extrovert to slow down and think before providing opinions. Coaches can also assist introverts in becoming more comfortable providing a group with their opinions. The coach should invest the time to work with both personality styles and develop an understanding and an appreciation for the various styles inside their team. A coach that puts in the effort to solicit the thoughts of all players might avoid costly mistakes by carefully selecting team leaders.