The 5 Biggest Reasons Why Your Leaders Struggle

by Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center

Do your leaders struggle with the same challenges most leaders do?

Every year we get the awesome privilege of surveying over 10,000 coaches and athletes from our Leadership Academies at top colleges across the nation on the effectiveness of their team captains. As you can imagine, we get some amazing data and insights on what makes the best leaders tick - and where they struggle.

Hands down our leaders tell us this intensive and impactful 360-Degree Leadership Feedback process is one of the most effective leadership development tools we have in our arsenal. Through the 360 process, the leaders get to see specifically how their leadership comes across to their teammates and coaches as they pinpoint their individual strengths and areas for improvement. And, by surveying thousands of athletes and coaches, we get to see some very interesting trends across so many leaders.

While many of the leaders excel in a variety of areas, they also universally struggle in a number of critical areas. It doesn’t matter if they are male or female, a team sport athlete or an individual sport athlete, or a sophomore or senior, these five areas are the ones where typically most leaders struggle. See which of the five struggles most apply to your leaders…

5 Biggest Areas Where Your Leaders Struggle

1. Need to Be More Vocal

One of the most common areas where coaches and teammates want to see their leaders improve is the need to be more vocal. We see the following comments multiple times:

"He needs to be much more vocal than he is right now."

"I want to stop seeing her be quiet. I want her to have more of a presence."

"She definitely needs to speak up more during practices and games."

Unfortunately a good many leaders are hesitant to speak up because they are much more comfortable being Leaders by Example. They do a great job leading themselves but sometimes struggle when it comes to being a Vocal Leader for the team.

However, their teammates often want and need them to be more vocal, especially during pressure, conflict, and challenging situations. Rather than clamming up and watching the team’s struggles snowball downward, coaches and teammates want their leaders to step up and verbally refocus, reassure, and re-energize the team.

2. Holding People Accountable

Holding teammates accountable to the team’s standards and rules is another area where many leaders struggle.

"You have got to start holding people more accountable to following our team rules."

"As a captain, we look to you to enforce the rules of our team."

"You can't continue to allow some people to embarrass our team."

If you are going to build and sustain a Championship Culture, your leaders must serve as the primary caretakers of your team’s culture - meaning they must be willing to constructively confront teammates who do not live up to the values and standards of the culture.

However, many leaders are uncomfortable confronting teammates and thus avoid the difficult conversations altogether. They allow teammates to cut corners in workouts, do stupid things socially, and bash the coaches in the locker room. Of course this inaction by leaders only worsens and perpetuates the problem because others now think this lower standard is the acceptable standard for the team. Further, the leader loses respect and credibility in the eyes of the team and coaches because he/she doesn’t have the courage to confront resistant, reluctant, and existent teammates.

3. Maintaining Poise and Composure Under Adversity

Because leaders are so invested in the cause of the team, they have a hard time maintaining their poise and composure when things don’t go their way.

"She can’t let anger distract her from our team’s main goal."

"People are almost scared to come talk to her because they're afraid of her reaction and what she will say to them."

"Don’t let anger and frustration overtake your judgment - she shouldn’t let her anger beat her."

"Bounce back from the mistakes quicker - no dwelling on negative plays from the past, move on because the team needs you in this moment."

Many leaders have a tendency to lose their cool when the “stuff” hits the fan. Some leaders implode internally and sulk and pout while others are more prone to explode externally on teammates, coaches, opponents, and officials when things don't go their way. Because of their very visible and influential impact on the rest of the team, these negative displays of uncontrolled emotion often negatively impact their teammates. They too often lose their composure as well as their confidence in their ability to handle and overcome the situation. Your leaders need to understand how critical their response to adversity is - because it often triggers your entire team's response to adversity.

4. Connecting with Teammates

Leaders are in the challenging position of needing to connect and communicate in some way with everyone on the team, regardless of their position or disposition, personality, role on the team, etc. When leaders don't reach out to their teammates, people can feel left out.

"You need to spend more time around the team in social settings. We want to get to know you better and you need to be around the team more."

"He needs to reach out the freshmen more."

"She seems to spend time with only a small circle of seniors. This creates a clique-ish feeling with the rest of the team."

People really want to feel connected with their leaders so the leaders must make a special, extra effort to develop a reasonable relationship and connection with everyone on the team. This obviously can be challenging given the variety of personalities, preferences, and ages of the various team members. Many leaders are comfortable developing relationships with their roommates, the people in their position group, or the people in their class, but struggle when it comes to reaching out beyond these groups of people.

5. Being More Confident as a Leader

Finally, many young leader’s struggle finding their leadership position and ultimately their voice with the team.

"I would like him to stop doubting his ability to speak out and address the team."

"He needs to speak with more confidence when talking with the team. He says things in a joking manner which makes it hard to take him seriously."

Finding their voice is challenging, especially when a younger leader might worry they are stepping on the toes of older, more established athletes on the team. Some try to be vocal, but because they lack confidence in their role they sound and appear hesitant and unsure of themselves. This timidness obviously comes across to the rest of the team and negatively impacts the seriousness and impact of their message. Many teammates want their leaders to exude a solid presence and a certainty in their message. They want leaders who are comfotable in their own skin and who have a sense of presence.


As you examine the vulnerabilities and liabilities of your leaders, my guess is that many of them also struggle with one or more of these same five common struggles we just discussed. Just as you coach and develop them on their physical skills, so too must you assist them with developing their leadership skills.


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