Tuesday Tips: Know Your Team’s Identity to Become a Better Leader

Anyone can be a better leader by understanding the team's identity.

UNC's Towel Squad.
UNC’s Towel Squad. Photo: Jolie Lang — UltiPhotos.com

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This article was written by Tom Banister-Fletcher MSc MBPsS, a sport psychologist living in London. It was submitted as part of our Tuesday Tip Jar program.

When we think of leaders, we think of great personalities: people with such charisma that we can’t help following them. The reality of leadership, however, is different. Leadership is a social interaction that takes place in a group setting, like on an ultimate team, and the best leaders are the ones who understand and represent the people they lead.

As captains, coaches, or senior players, we need to be effective leaders to motivate and support our team. With a greater understanding of our team’s identity and how we can use it to our advantage, everyone can improve their leadership skills.

Even amidst COVID-19, you can work on developing your leadership skills and interacting with your current or future teammates.

Groups Have Identities

Everyone is part of multiple social groups. You might support a football team, be American, be a member of a university or company, or compete for a sports club. The extent to which we feel like we belong to each group is our social identity. When we identify strongly with a group, it changes how we behave; we see the group more positively and are willing to sacrifice our own time for the group’s benefit.

Sports clubs, organizations, and communities are all social groups with their own unique identity and values (the wider ultimate community is a good example). When we identify strongly with our team, we are more likely to:

  • Be productive
  • Be loyal and committed
  • Communicate with others
  • Support our teammates

Social Identity Leadership

The most effective leaders foster this sense of social identity (i.e. ‘who are we?’ and ‘where do we want to be?’) by creating a sense of togetherness and belonging. They serve as a role model and promote the values and identity of the team that they lead, which in turn gives them the influence to lead others. Think of a leader you admire; you’ll realize that you look up to them because they represent and champion the things that are important to you. It is critical to understand that leadership is not about your personality: it is your ability to create togetherness in your team. That’s good news, because it means with the right skills, everyone can be a good leader.

Making the Change

The first steps to improving our leadership skills are to understand the values of our team and examine how we can represent them better.

1. Know your team

  • Understand exactly what is important to your players. For example: do you coach a team who want commitment and intensity, or one that wants to have fun and see their friends?
  • Develop personal connections: make extra time to have 1-2-1 conversations with players
  • Create your team values: get the players to identify what values are important. Make sure everyone is involved!
  • Be prepared for a surprise: your team might value different things than you. Being willing to change to suit the needs of the team will make you a better leader in their eyes

2. What are you saying?

  • Communicate the values. If the team wants to have fun then consistently communicate it: say it in team talks, before games, 1-2-1, have it on your website, share photos of your team having fun on social media
  • Promote the values. If the team want to have fun, then make sure they know you think it’s important and how your team does it better than anyone else

3. What are you doing?

  • Actions speak louder than words: if fun is important, then you can’t just talk about it. Design fun trainings and create opportunities for people to enjoy themselves
  • Involve your players: asking players for ideas, feedback and to help you run things is never a bad thing. When people see you putting their ideas into action, their opinion of you as a leader grows

The Benefits

Boosting how strongly your players identify with the team is vital. It strengthens the connection everyone feels, creating a sense of togetherness which:

  • Motivates: when people feel connected to their group, they want to be a part of it. They will work harder, volunteer their time and tell others how great it is
  • Builds confidence: your team will feel more able to rise to a challenge and believe they can win
  • Provides support: your players will feel looked after
  • Reduces stress: when players feel supported and confident, they view challenges on and off the pitch as less stressful and approach them head-on

Good luck! Leading with your team’s identity in mind is a powerful tool with many benefits that anyone can use to be a better leader. These initial steps should set you on the right path.

This article was submitted as a part of our new Tuesday Tip Jar program! Submit your own Tuesday Tips to our Tip Jar to win a free subscription and even become an Ultiworld writer.

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