Leadership, a word comprising many characteristics and traits, is likely one of the broadest words in the English language. People have been studying the concept of leadership for some time and it would be hard to come up with a definitive definition of what leadership truly is. What the word means to each individual may differ and include varying aspects of teamwork, culture, management, communication, motivation, guidance, authority, control, etc. Recently I have been thinking about leadership characteristics more and more in my everyday life, constantly reflecting as to how I can be better within my professional role as a Technical Leader of a soccer club. In my reflections, I have come to the realization that just about everything, every aspect of being a good leader, centers around inspiring others to have fun. Simultaneously, I think this has likely been under-appreciated in the research and literature surrounding the concept of leadership, in favour of other buzzwords like “guidance”, “influence” and “power” that are also too broad. Here is why fun is so important to leadership, and likely an underrated aspect when considering what makes someone a “good leader.”
understanding the individual
It’s unquestionable that leaders can’t exist without followers. Most leaders work with teams or groups of people, rather than with only one individual. Mentors and those that work with individuals can certainly be thought of as leaders, but when we as a society think of leaders, we typically think of people who can inspire groups of people. But what I think often gets lost is the notion that in order to inspire groups, you need to inspire individuals. As a result, understanding each individual within a team or group is immensely important to a leader’s role. If a leader can understand each individual, understand their personality, understand the way they want to be communicated to, understand why they are a part of the team, etc., they can do a better job at inspiring them. For example, in my job as a Technical Leader, it is really important to understand how much feedback and what type of feedback the coaches want to receive. If I go about it in the wrong way, I risk diminishing that coach’s experience and as a result, I may end up demotivating them rather than motivating them. If coaches feel demotivated, how are the players going to feel? So it is really important for me to ensure I am communicating with coaches in a way that makes sense for their personality, their values and what they want out of their coaching experience (e.g. level of support, level of independence, etc.). In other words, I need to understand the coach first, then communicate in a way that is fun for them and fits their needs. Then I can inspire and motivate them, and be that good leader that you would want from someone with the title ‘Technical Leader.’ For me, it all comes down to understanding the individual’s needs and then making it fun for them based on those needs.
To take another example, when I was teaching a Coaching & Leadership course to undergraduate students, it was really important for me to have a general grasp on why each individual was in the course. Maybe it was required, maybe the course was able to fit nicely into their schedule, maybe they were interested in the course content, or maybe they had aspirations of being a coach or developing their craft as one already. Understanding that aspect allowed me to communicate with the students and give feedback to them in a way that (hopefully) suited their needs in the course. I felt like I achieved that and I felt like as a result, people were able to have fun in the course and feel inspired/motivated to come and learn, for a variety of different reasons that were specific to that individual. If those same students were not enjoying things, they wouldn’t feel as motivated, and they might not have performed as well in the course. It also comes down to sense of belonging, as I know many scholars have noted, but belonging is ultimately centered around one’s ability to have fun. If individuals are not having fun, they won’t feel like they belong.
how do you inspire others without fun?
To me, there are so many aspects of leadership that I value and hold as being of high importance, but the vast majority of them come back to this idea of having fun, more so than I think people recognize. For example, as a leader, it is important to establish the type of environment or culture that you want the group to abide by and/or buy-into. But you cannot get them to buy into the culture if they are not having fun. If your followers are not enjoying things, you will not inspire them to the same extent that you could if they were enjoying things. A coach for example might use punishments to get certain values and beliefs that they have instilled within their team. But this is unlikely to actually inspire change or inspire buy-in to that coach’s values and beliefs, as punishments simply aren’t fun. The British FA have recently established the motto “We only do positive.” Essentially, the FA have recognized that if people are constantly receiving negative feedback (whether it be from coaches, parents, teammates or whomever), they won’t have as much fun, and as a result, they won’t feel inspired to perform to their potential. Canada Soccer’s Respect in Sport campaign follows a similar train of thought.
Sometimes people look at authority figures as unlikable. To me, a good leader should be someone who is likable. Quite simply, if my coaches, players or students don’t like me, they won’t have as much fun, they won’t be as motivated, and they might not reach their potential. So it’s important for me to actually try to be likable, charismatic and show my personality. There’s an old saying – “You shouldn’t care what other people think of you.” But I think that you should. As a leader, I need to care about whether or not people like me. Not because I have a desperate need to be liked, but because if they don’t like me, it’s going to be a problem for my ability to actually be a good leader and guide them toward their potential.
Another aspect of leadership that I think is particularly underrated is the notion of innovation. Doing things differently from others. Not following the common path just for the sake of it, but being creative to establish new ways of doing things when necessary. But again, innovative practices are unsuccessful without buy-in from others. That comes with the proper level of communication suited to their needs. It comes with meeting individuals where they are at and understanding each individual and what makes them tick. Ultimately it comes down to communicating things in a way that sounds fun for them. People don’t want to do things that are not fun. Therefore, leaders are unsuccessful if they are engaging in practices and/or developing new ways of doing things that are not fun. It needs to be fun for the group and fun for each individual. So that begs the question of how to ensure people are having fun. That’s probably a story for another article, but understanding each individual and trying to make a connection with them, in addition to the aspects outlined in the FA’s We Only Do Positive Campaign or Canada Soccer’s Respect in Sport modules, are great places to start.
So there it is! Why the concept of fun is an underrated aspect of leadership. It may sound overly simplistic, but the ability to ensure followers are having fun is an essential aspect of leadership that is often neglected in all the discussion surrounding what makes someone a good leader. Be sure to share your thoughts below or on Twitter @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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