What leadership looks like to a little swimmer


This article is part two of a series on leadership from the viewpoint of a follower. Read the first article here: When the leader doesn’t lead – a follower’s point of view.

I was quite the swimmer growing up – I consistently made AA+ times, had more ribbons and medals than I knew what to do with, and even made it to State in Backstroke and Freestyle.

But I credit much of my success to my coaches. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to reach my full potential or gotten all those awards.

They embodied the characteristics of great leadership. Here’s why:

They gave me confidence when I didn’t have any.

My coaches always told me I would be fine and do great. They had confidence in me even when I didn’t. They helped me harness my nervous energy and transfer it into confidence. So when I was on the diving block before starting a race, all they had to do was give me a smile and a nod and that was all the assurance I needed.

They challenged me to bring out my full potential.

I remember one meet my coached signed me up for the 200 Yard Backstroke race when I was 11. (Each lap is 25 yards, so it was 8 laps). It was way longer than any other race I’d ever done so I was afraid. But, it turned out to be one of the best things they ever did and it completely changed my swimming career. Little did I know, but I was a long-distance swimmer — and they knew it before I did. I came in 2nd place! They knew this challenge would open a new set of doors for me. After that race, I started swimming 200s and even 500s (20 laps) and was performing much better in those than in my short-distant races.

Their encouragement kept me going even though I didn’t think I could.

My coaches were always there for me, walking alongside the pool cheering me on. So when I was on my last lap and my arms were giving out, dizziness was taking over from the lack of oxygen, and my body was telling me I couldn’t go any faster, I could hear my coaches screaming for me to keep going. Because of that encouragement, I found myself swimming harder than I ever thought I could.

Even when I lost, they were there.

Nothing’s worse than swimming your hardest race and your coach doesn’t acknowledge it. After each race, my coaches would come up to me afterward and give me a hug and a high five, no matter how I did. But most importantly, they would let me know what I did well or what we need to work at practice to help me do even better. I always looked forward to that check-in and evaluation – it made me a better swimmer.

My coaches were able to see what I was capable of when I couldn’t. They taught me how discipline, determination and hard work pays off.

They brought out my full potential – and that to me is what a great leader does.

Photo courtesy of Greg L. photos (Flickr

Devan Perine

Devan Perine works with small business owners on their marketing and multimedia efforts. She's passionate about helping businesses build their presence online, and giving Gen Y a voice in the workplace. When she's not working, she loves to make a mess in the kitchen, and play with her band around Chicago. She loves to chat! Give her a shout on Google+, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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