“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” – Colin Powell
Since Mike McGowan and I began the Prime program almost 5 years ago, a common topic of discussion has been leadership. Neither of us are perfect and we will be the first to tell you. No one is. However, we are striving to build qualities in ourselves to better our abilities to lead. The Prime Program currently consists of four divisional teams. There is PR1ME (the division 2 PSP team), PR1ME 2 (the division 4 PSP team), PR1ME Mayhem (the regional division 4 MiLP team) and finally PR1ME 5 (our division 5 MiLP team). In order for the program to run successfully and not fall into chaos, we assigned each team a “team lead”. As you can imagine, running this many teams between myself and McGowan is, for lack of a better term, a pooch. With around 40 individuals, all with their own personalities and skill sets, this was paramount to the Prime Program’s survival. Team leaders have a certain level of autonomy but ultimately team decisions filter up the chain of command. Order and structure is a must and should be followed/enforced with rewards and consequences.
Every paintball team, whether new or seasoned, has experienced a need for a leader to step up, get the ball rolling, move the team in the right direction, or whatever else may be necessary to get the team on track. Almost every team has experienced a moment of crisis or a “rough patch”. There is usually never a greater opportunity/need for a good leader than when a team is facing adversity. Now, adversity can be any number of things for a paintball team ranging from weakness at a position, weakness in a fundamental aspect of the game, depth of the team, finances, morale or even leadership itself. Here are a few of the qualities that I have seen/learned in regards to leadership as a coach, player and friend in the ranks of Prime:
“The Engine” – I read a fantastic sci-fi book when I was younger called “Armor” by John Steakley. The protagonist was a character named Felix, a scout in the futuristic military. He is burned out but absolutely refuses to die even when the odds are so far against him, any other person would have zero chance of living. His “engine” takes control and he becomes what he must to survive. A good leader must have that same engine (in this case however, not necessarily for killing nasty alien bugs). It is an inner drive that pushes you to see difficulties and find solutions. You become tenacious when looking for data and understanding what the issues are and how you will address them. It should be noted though that this same tenacity can cause you to stick with an idea that isn’t working. This is… Bad. You have to be able to recognize when to put the engine on a different course.
“Facts are Facts” – Reality can be tough to face at times but a good leader is grounded in realism. Someone once told me that realism is the mid-point between optimism and pessimism. How genius is that? Balance is key. You want to take the data provided through the “engine” and weigh it in a realistic manner. Don’t sugarcoat it! Look at it for what it is and base reactions and solutions on that. Everyone loves the guy who is always positive “We will practice harder and come back and win the next one”… three events later and your finishes have done nothing but fall… time for a dose of realism. Something is wrong. There are those who will refuse to face reality about their ability or place on the team. They must be culled for the simple fact they will slow the progress of others. Hopefully they will realize that this isn’t a personal attack. If they don’t, they were never team material in the first place. A good leader can see this and explain it.
“Everybody calm down!” –Staying calm actually has two effects: First, it shows your team that you are in control of your emotions which can be contagious. A calm team is a team that is listening. And second, it lets you think. Panic leads to rushed, ill-gotten decisions which more so than not, lead to disaster. Remember to breathe… all is not lost… unless someone screams “WE”RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!” and lights themself on fire. When the proverbial **** hits the fan, chill and focus on facts not unknowns.
“Friendly fire! Friendly fire!” – When things get downright ugly at practice or in the pit, even the most loyal of players can start to point fingers. They will put verbal rounds down range at the nearest and easiest target which is usually not them. Instead of focusing on the catalysts or even themselves, they start looking for a scapegoat. A good leader will never do this. If a leader sees his players doing this to one another, he will shut that down immediately and point out the real culprit in a calm manner. Keep everyone focused on the task at hand which is recognizing what is going wrong and how to fix it. Leadership is building up those around you and bringing the team together, not tearing it down.
“My bad” – I feel confident that if you were to ask any member of PR1ME who my biggest critic is, they would be quick to tell you I am. Accountability is a major factor that a good leader must possess. You will not always make the right decision and you will fail at times. And when you do, admit it and learn from it. Be sure to recognize your short comings because the sooner you do that, the sooner you can delegate to someone who has that quality or address it by consciously working on it. Be open to criticism and use it constructively. Honesty is a quality every leader should have in dealing with themself and others.
“Did you see that?!!” – I like to motivate my guys using baby steps or what I would call a “small win”. This is a great process to use in practice. If a player or team is struggling, I like to take them back to the basics and remind them that they are good at things. If you can create opportunities for members of the team to succeed, they in turn will set their own goals which usually will mirror your own. You must find the different ways to motivate your team. Every player is different. Learn how to talk to each one and as a group. Goal setting is vitally important, especially for a team just starting out. Keep them realistic though.
“All I wanted was friggin sharks with laser beams…” – Don’t get drowned with problems. It is incredibly easy to see a problem and then focus solely on it while everything else continues to move. Count on more arriving while you’re at it. Recognize the distance to your goals and keep everyone moving in that direction. Sure, you have to address problems but a good leader will see the big picture and not get bogged down. Address and keep moving forward.
“A sense of humor is good for you. Ever heard of a Hyena with heartburn?” – BTW, that was a Bob Hope reference… which brings me to my last leadership quality (for now… this is not all of them of course) – Humor! You have to laugh at things. It shows you are approachable and genuine. Especially if you can laugh at yourself or a situation. Humor relieves stress and less stress is good.
And that sums up my first attempt at leadership qualities. I cannot claim credit for all of this. I have read several books by great men and been blessed to be related to others. Recently, I had the distinct honor to help two personal friends of mine. If you want to see these qualities in action, get access to the LA Ironmen’s pit during an event. Watch my boys Mike Paxson and Shane Pestana lead. I guarantee you will see each of those qualities and more if you spend just a smidgen of time around them.
Thanks for reading!
The Three Legged Cat aka the Old Man aka Captain America aka Coach aka Mike Bianca