Leading from the Middle

A few weeks ago, I was driving a 15 passenger van to a cross country meet in Evansville, Indiana, about a 7 hour drive from Canton, Ohio. We often take vans to meets, and I’m usually one of the drivers, so I’m getting pretty comfortable behind the wheel, even when there is music blasting and a bunch of 18-22 year olds banging on the ceiling (off-beat) and singing whatever Kesha song they decided to play. But on a long trip like this, there is bound to be some down-time, and of course that’s when I start thinking about things.

We took 3 vans this time, and I happened to be driving the one in the middle, which means I was following the lead van and the van behind me was following both of us. Maybe it’s cause I was looking for ways to take my mind off of the monotony of driving, or maybe because I have a masters degree in organizational leadership, but I kept connecting our 3 vehicle caravan to leadership philosophy.

I was thinking about my role as an assistant coach and what it means to be a leader when you’re not necessarily the one in charge. The phrase “leading from the middle” kept running through my mind, so I started to explore the ways this related to my life, or  how to apply it to a bigger approach to leadership in general.

When you are second in the caravan, it’s important that you not only follow the person ahead of you, but also consider the person who is following behind you. For example, if I’m not paying attention to when we are exiting the highway and fail to anticipate the lead van changing lanes until the last minute, I might not leave enough time for the last van to make the exit. It’s important that I recognize that I’m not only a follower, but a leader as well.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I’ve always been drawn to this type of role, being in the middle. Maybe it’s because I’m a middle child. Many of my favorite characters are second in command- Joshua in the Bible or Jax Teller in Sons of Anarchy (I’m only in the 3rd season so no spoilers). I love the idea of reporting to someone who is wiser and more experienced than me, but also being given enough authority to influence decisions, or to be the one to put a plan into action.  Doing the ground work within an organization, executing the strategy is when I feel most connected to the group as a whole.

Being an assistant coach allows me to be involved in planning and organization on the top end, while many times it’s also my job to implement the plan that was decided upon. It feels good to be highly involved on both ends of the process. I feel like I have the ability to be an advocate for the athletes, someone to be trusted to look out for what’s in their best interest, while still supporting the overall goals of our team as decided upon by the coaching staff. In a way, my role is to bridge the gap between the the two groups.

How can this apply to a bigger picture? One thing I’ve observed is that many of us have too narrow of a definition of what it means to be a leader. The leader is not only the person who is “in charge.” Anyone can be a leader. Sometimes being a leader means you take your roles in life seriously and put effort into what you do. People will notice and many times the effort becomes contagious. The same goes for lack of effort, this can become contagious too.

So, what kind of influence do you want to have on the people in your life? In what ways can you be a bridge that facilitates a successful environment? Think about it!

Thanks for reading.

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