Leadership Tree

Jeff McLanahan
Contributing Writer

According to Wikipedia, a coaching tree is like a family tree except that it shows relationships of coaches instead of family members.  In general, if a coach worked as an assistant on a head coach’s staff for at least a season, then that coach can be counted as being a branch on the head coach’s coaching tree.

The National Football League is well-known for their coaching trees.  Former San Francisco 49er head coach Bill Walsh has a famous coaching tree with numerous branches that continue to grow even today.  One branch of his tree includes Mike Holmgren, former head coach of the Green Bay Packers.  After being developed by Bill Walsh, Mike Holmgren developed coaches such as Andy Reid, current head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.  Andy Reid extended the coaching tree by developing branches that include John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens, Sean McDermott of the Los Angeles Rams, Doug Pederson of the Philadelphia Eagles and Matt Nagy of the Chicago Bears.

If you speak to my colleague Lance Sinclair, he will tell you that the job of a leader is to develop other leaders.  Once developed, the theory is that these leaders will go out and develop even more leaders.  After a while, a leadership tree (like a coaching tree) is created with various branches, and this tree continues to grow as more leaders are developed.

As leaders, we need to be continually focused on growing our own leadership tree.  Here are a few tips to keep on your RADAR for starting your own leadership tree or growing your existing one.

1 – Relationship Building:  Create and maintain an open line of communication with your team and build relationships based on trust and respect.  These relationships will be valuable when proving guidance and counsel.

2 – Availability:  Set aside time regularly to meet with your team and listen to what is on their minds.  While a scheduled time is good, be willing to stop what you are doing if they drop in to talk, as not all thoughts occur at scheduled times.

3 – Development:  Provide opportunities for the ongoing development of your team.  Many low and/or no-cost opportunities are available if you do some research.  Also, consider approving attendance to a relevant conference on an annual basis.  Much will be gained from the content as well as the interaction with other leaders.

4 – Allow Mistakes:  If it was easy, everyone would do it.  Leadership development takes time and practice, just like other skills.  Mistakes will be made and generally, more learning and development takes place from mistakes than from success.

5 – Recognize Growth:  A large part of leadership development is positive reinforcement.  When progress is made or success is achieved, recognize it and be sure to celebrate.

One last bit of advice is to stay in contact with those from your leadership tree.  I have found that in many cases, members of my leadership tree have provided coaching and counsel to me.

Start developing your leadership tree today.  And if you already have an established leadership tree, be sure to tend it from time to time to continue growing new branches!

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