Paddlechica: 10 Qualities of a True Team Leader

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Paddlechica: 10 Qualities of a True Team Leader

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what makes a good team leader. This thinking led to a lot of research and quite a bit of reflection. I thought about good leaders I’ve known on teams that I’ve been on and I thought about what a good leader looks like. A few commonalities began to emerge.

Leadership roles within the team seem to naturally develop. Some people gravitate towards doing the organizational tasks of the team, while others tend towards more of the planning aspect. Some drift towards a captain-like role in giving pep-talks and pre-race speeches, and still others lean towards coaching or helping to recruit or develop the newer paddlers.

…a good leader’s teammates are better because of his or her presence on the team.

A friend and fellow paddler recently pointed out something to me that makes perfect sense but that I hadn’t really thought of in such specifics. She mentioned that leaders come in all shapes and sizes. In her words, some take up a lot of “space” and others don’t take up much “space” at all. What does this mean? Some leaders are larger than life. Boisterous in their approach, their presence is notable within the team. These leaders are vocal, often pumping up the team with pep talks and encouragement. Others, however, are quiet and lead by example. They take a more silent approach, but serve as role models for their teammates. They understand that they are perhaps a mentor and act accordingly. Both styles are beneficial to the team in their own ways, yet they are vastly different in their methods. Fellow paddlers recognize their value not only in terms of athletic abilities, but also in terms of interpersonal skills. They exhibit good sportsmanship at all times, take responsibility for their actions and learn from them.

Whatever the leadership style, I noticed that there are 10 qualities that every team leader seems to have.

1. Experience

A good leader is typically an experienced paddler. Whether it’s several years or multiple decades on the water, a teammate who has been paddling for quite some time has the background necessary to be someone that the team looks up to. He or she can call upon previous team involvement or race situations in order to help guide the club in an appropriate direction.

2. Integrity

True integrity is another quality of a good leader. He or she has a strong moral compass and can always be relied upon to be ethical. A good leader does the right thing no matter if it is popular or not, and does not cave under pressure from others who may not be of the same mindset.

3. The Ability to Inspire

Whether it’s with a motivational speech before a race, or with notable paddling abilities that others hope to have one day, a good leader is able to inspire the team. He or she encourages the team to work hard and be their very best all the time. Such encouragement may not always come in the form of words. Quite often a leader simply serves as an example, demonstrating admirable behavior as an athlete and teammate, quietly boosting team morale.

4. A Commitment to Team

A good leader is fully committed to the team and puts the needs of the team above his or her own. The idea of “we” over “me” is central to a good leader’s thinking. A focus on what is best for the team is paramount in the leader’s mind as he or she helps navigate the team towards success. A good leader’s commitment is often evident in the endless hours spent helping the team in whatever capacity is necessary.

5. Passion

Extreme passion for not only the sport, but also the development of the team and his or her teammates is another quality of a good leader. A genuine love of paddling as well as an insatiable enthusiasm for the team guide a true leader’s actions and decisions.


Photo: Jeff Holubeshen

6. Positivity

Relentless positivity is yet another quality of a good leader. Even when the team is struggling or facing adversity, a true leader is able to see the positive in every situation and bring the team together. It can be difficult to maintain such a positive outlook, especially if surrounded by negativity or pessimism, however, a true leader is able to counter such negativity with optimism.

7. Approachability

A good leader is approachable. He or she is friendly and without an air of arrogance, regardless of his or her athletic abilities. Newer paddlers feel comfortable in seeking him or her out for advice or guidance, and more veteran paddlers confide in him or her with any struggles they may be having.

8. Communication Skills

Whether it is giving a pre-race speech to the team, or speaking one-on-one to fellow teammates who need advice, a good leader has solid communication skills and is able to effectively convey his or her ideas. Words have the power to motivate people. Used effectively, good communication skills can truly inspire the team.


Photo: Jeff Holubeshen

9. Vision

A good leader has a vision for the team that others might not yet be able to see. When the rest of the team may be focused on the more immediate needs such as training for an upcoming race, a leader is able to foresee the larger picture of the team. Such vision allows the leader to guide the team in a productive direction, while recognizing the talents and abilities of the crew.

10. Team Respect

A paddler cannot be in a leadership position without having the respect of the team. But respect is more than just admiration. It evolves from a person’s qualities, abilities and achievements. So, not only does a leader need to be a talented paddler, he or she must also have a strong character.

These ten qualities are not only beneficial for those in a leadership position, but can be helpful for all members of the team. Overall, good leaders lead by example. They take ownership of their actions and learn from them. They are good sports, regardless of the outcome of the race. And a good leader’s teammates are better because of his or her presence on the team. So why not cultivate these qualities in yourself and those around you?

What leadership qualities do you have?

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