I uphold that one of five defining characteristics of leadership is competition. As such, sports is a useful metaphor for me to describe the difference between what I perceive to be the common leader and what I call a Gorilla Leader. I sometimes compare racing with hockey to illustrate the difference.
In a running race it is easy to determine the leader. At any point in time, the leader is the person who is out front. Clearly the leader is in the race for her or himself. On a hockey team, it is a bit different. The leader could rightfully be considered General Manager or Coach, but I would like to focus at the athletic level. Hockey teams normally assign a Team Captain. I have asked many of the hockey gods I skate with what constitutes a Team Captain. Of course attributes like individual skills and congeniality enter into the discussion, but the central theme of bringing out the best performance of everyone or enhancing the collective competitiveness of the entire team seems to dominate.
I refer to the first type of competitor as the “First Follower.” First Followers are the supervisors who will do anything their boss tells them to do and do so in an exemplary fashion, but their motive is to get ahead in the organization. First Followers are encumbered by a propensity for Group Think. First Followers endeavour to come across to the supervisor as ‘better than their peers’. Gorilla Leaders endeavour to fulfill the needs of the community, which is often the organization and their employees, before themselves.
It can be argued that the leader in a race brings out the best in people merely by setting the standard that one has to meet or surpass. I will accept that, but I see that as an example of supervisors who promote careerism in the workplace. The other runners are certainly capable of meeting the challenge and performing at a commensurate level, but the motivation is egocentric. There is no denying the existence of an egocentric element in team players, and a Gorilla Leader will endeavour to bring out the personal best of every competitor. However, Gorilla Leaders also inspire players to focus their efforts on the common good of team. That could be in the form of encouragement and example, although I have heard unconfirmed roots that Mark Messier had another way of inspiring teamwork.
I intend to examine in much more detail how leadership manifests itself in sports. I would be interested to hear your views on what a team captain brings to a hockey team, as well as some examples of how some team captains may have approached that role.