Post By: Nastasja Minja | Monday, May 11, 2020

sport psychology performance STRESS leadership

Born as a leader or follower? Employer or employee? Teacher or student? Influencer or influencee (this one is not yet in the dictionary)?

There are tons of high-quality books available on the topic of leadership. The thing that I like about these books is that they provide lots of knowledge and insights, sometimes even inspiration. On the other hand, that's where it usually ends. No tangible applied strategies on “What to do to become a leader?” or “How to improve your leadership skills?”. That's what I would like to briefly share with you in this sports performance enhancement article.

But before we get there, there are some misconceptions about leadership that we need to acknowledge.


“You have to be born as a leader to become a leader.”

NO. As a matter of fact being born as a leader does not even indicate your success as one. It's all about the grit of learning a new skill. And that's what leadership is – a skill. If you are born with a completely accurate sense of hearing, but never actually touch an instrument, you will probably never become a famous rock star. On the other hand, you might not be a gifted musician, but you practice your singing every single day and the next thing you know, you're on a stage rocking the world of 15000 people in Madison Square Garden. Same goes for leadership.

“The best leaders are those that others blindly obey and fear.”

YES?... well NO. Turns out that the best leaders are those that others respect, but feel comfortable sharing their views with (= democratic leadership). Unlike the old-school model where “the boss” represents a distant figure that you can only satisfy with discipline and obedience (=autocratic leadership). The reason behind this is one of the basic human needs referred to as “autonomy”. Everyone wants to feel understood and have a chance to contribute in a unique way. The leaders that provide that chance have more motivation, energy, courage and creativity from their team to show for. Check out Jürgen Klopp for a real-life example.

“The main goal of a good leader is to get more and more followers.”

Definitely NO. Be very careful here. If you really want to be a kickass leader, your priority mission is to create more leaders, not gain a ridiculous number of followers. You don't want to be the Johnny that gathers the largest flock of sheep. You want to be the Johnny that teaches other Johnnies how to be a kickass shepherd. Think about it.

“You can either be identified as a leader or a follower – there's no in-between.”

And… NO. Let's be honest here. You can be the most assertive, confident and hardcore director of the biggest company in your town or the most introverted, shy geek on the planet. The truth is that in this lifetime you will have many different roles. In some you will follow and learn and in some you will teach and take the lead, no matter your personality and preferences. The director will be the shiest member of the local church choir and the introverted geek will be the G.O.A.T. of League of Legends and other e-sports. We are not all born leaders, but we are all born to lead. And sometimes we will need to follow instead – whether we like it or not.


Let's indulge in the leadership part. Time to move on to the HOW. Here are five important steps for becoming a leader and improving your leadership skills.

1. Define your leadership roles

Where are you a leader? If the answer is “currently nowhere”, find at least three options where you can become one (e.g. apply for a job where you can challenge your leadership skills, create an online mentoring program for something you mastered doing and teach others, gather up your family and be their fitness instructor of the week) and choose at least one (!).

2. Reflect

What leadership skills have you applied effectively and how can you improve them? There are tons of resources on what important leadership skills are, but I would usually recommend finding and defining your own. What are the needs of your group and which leadership skills will help you to help them with their performance? Here are some examples: Active listening, empathy, commitment, positivity, inspiration, communication, consistency, constructive feedback. Once you list them (max 10), you rate yourself from 1 (need to work on that a lot) to 5 (optimal – try to keep it that way). That can be followed by a written reflection, if you have the time and motivation for it (hint: as a leader you kind of should ?).

3. Make mistakes

In contrary to common beliefs, as a leader you HAVE TO make mistakes. Read that again. It's when you make mistakes, take responsibility for them and deal with them in a constructive, diligent and calm manner that you have the chance to set an example for your followers and future coleaders. If you are viewed as Mr. or Mrs. “Unmistakable”, people will not be able to relate to you in one of the most important aspects – being human. With some basic self-regulation strategies you can become the master of making the best out of your mistakes. More on that in my next article.

4. Create a safe environment

As a leader you will be responsible for creating a suitable environment for your team (students, workers, athletes, fellow athletes etc.). You want an environment where they will be free and safe to perform and express themselves. That's when their survival mechanism will be switched off and where they will be able to flourish in creativity and flow.

5. Speak their language, but in high heels

They say the most important thing in every relationship is communication. I disagree. How many times have you communicated with someone for hours, days, weeks and haven't made one single step forward? Not even a teeny-tiny one. The most important thing in every relationship is language. If you want to be a good leader, you have to be understood by the audience listening and observing you. The catch is to do that in high heels. As much they can be uncomfortable sometimes, you don't want to be mistaken for one of the still-in-progress Johnnies. EVER. As a leader you need to keep yourself a teeny-tiny step above.

6. Give yourself a chance

There are many methods to achieve the same goal. Some that you are skilled at and some that you are not. None of them matter, if you don't decide to give yourself a chance. I know this sounds cliché, but we apparently don't hear it often enough. You NEED to find the guts and courage to make a step forward. To get out of your comfort zone. Make mistakes. Ask for help. Stick to your values. Forgive yourself, if you don't. Be honest. Authentic. To innovate. To help. To learn. To lead.

Best of luck on your leadership journey if you need additional guidance feel to free to reach out to a certified mental performance here at Mindurance!

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” – Ronald Reagan