Two Leadership Styles & How They Impact Athletes

Are you a leader? In athletics and in life

What image comes to mind when I say the word leader?

Do you envision someone vocalizing his or her opinions to a crowd, or do you picture a person motivating others due to their actions? The idea of being a leader has always interested me, especially in terms of sports.

What does it mean to be a leader on a team? Do you have to give lengthy speeches before games, motivating the other players in order to be deemed a leader? While leadership styles change, at the most basic level there are two forms of leadership I believe we can exhibit. Whether one is better than the other is up to your own interpretation.

What it Means to be a Leader

Before getting into the two leadership types, it’s best to first uncover what it means to be a leader. Leaders are figures throughout history who have been admired. They have led armies, countries, and people through adversity and towards victory.

But what about on a smaller scale? Can any of us be a leader? The answer is yes, anyone can be a leader, and it starts with leading ourselves. In an article on Forbes, Jerry Colonna wrote about the importance of first leading ourselves if we wish to lead others.

I find that to be a fascinating concept. Mainly because I think a defining characteristic of a leader is someone who walks their talk. Not only do they motivate and inspire others, but they do the same with themselves.

A true leader understands themselves first and foremost. Only from such a place of self-awareness can an individual effectively go out and lead others.

One of the defining traits Jerry Colonna describes a leader to have is the ability to recognize what’s in your control. By understanding that we are in charge of our own responses to life, a deeper level of personal leadership is developed.

Once we learn to lead ourselves, now we are in a position to lead others. Now it’s time to take a look into the characteristics that make up a good leader. For both of the leadership types, the characteristics that make you a good leader will remain the same.

The Center for Creative Leadership provides ten key characteristics that make up a good leader. They are as follows:

  1. Integrity
  2. Ability to delegate
  3. Communication
  4. Self-awareness
  5. Gratitude
  6. Learning agility
  7. Influence
  8. Empathy
  9. Courage
  10. Respect

All of these are fantastic traits for anyone to adopt. But in terms of a leader, it becomes clear why these are so important. As an athlete or performer, all of these except delegation will be vital to establishing yourself as a leader on your team or within your organization.

If you are a coach, or someone in a similar position, all ten will be beneficial to you. As a coach, the ability to delegate comes into play when deciding on specific roles for each of your players. The better you can give the right jobs to the right people, the higher your chances of success will be.

With those ten characteristics, and the knowledge that we must first lead ourselves, here is what I believe to be a great definition of a leader. A leader is someone who motivates and inspires others to work towards a common goal and become the best version of themselves.

This sums up both leading ourselves and others. If you want to be a good leader, you must motivate and inspire. The question now is, how do you go about accomplishing that?

At the most basic level, there are two forms of leadership we can display: being a vocal leader or a quiet leader.

Vocal Leader

The first style of leadership I would like to discuss is that of a vocal leader. I would argue this is the form of leadership most people picture when hearing the word leader. You may be imagining a player on your team, perhaps it’s you, who always is in the one rallying everyone together.

Usually you will find a coach to be a vocal leader, though not always. Sometimes a coach will exhibit quiet leadership, as I will discuss in the next section.

So what designates someone as a vocal leader? In order to be considered as this leadership type you must be, you guessed it, vocal. I don’t mean constantly talking, but using your voice to inspire and motivate.

A vocal leader is seen giving speeches before and after games and performances. They are chatty during practice, helping uplift teammates with their words.

This is the most recognizable form of leadership. It’s easy to see when someone is a vocal leader. However, in order to be a leader, others must be willing to follow you. From my experience, this is where vocal leaders run into trouble.

Sometimes being vocal isn’t accepted by your teammates. If gone about incorrectly, constantly talking and trying to motivate others can be taken poorly. You may even be viewed as arrogant, which creates dissonance between yourself and others.

While you shouldn’t be afraid to speak if you believe yourself to be a good leader, you must ensure you’ve earned that right. Throughout my baseball career, I’ve come across many players who tried to be vocal leaders, only to create disharmony within the team.

Most of the times these players either didn’t walk their talk or had yet to gain the respect of the team. In these instances, a lot of people ended up resenting the player.

If you are a more vocal person, and wish to lead in this way, here are some guidelines to follow. By doing so, you will increase the effectiveness of your leadership.

Be Authentic

An important piece of a good vocal leader is being authentic. You want your leadership to seem real. When you find yourself in this position, your responsibility is going to be motivating and leading your teammates by talking to them.

In order to be authentic, this vocalization cannot come from a place of self-gain. If by being a vocal leader, you hope for personal gain, you will be seen as selfish. I’ve known guys who hoped to gain favor in the coaches eye by being loud.

You may also be trying to gain the respect or admiration of your peers. However, vocal leaders should not seek such respect through their voices. This leadership style comes after the respect, not the other way around.

What you must do is come from an authentic place where you are trying to make your teammates, and the team as a whole better. This could even mean losing your starting spot to someone else.

As a true leader, you have to hold the success of the team above your own personal ego.

Walk Your Talk

One of the worst things you can do as a vocal leader is not walk your talk. It won’t take long for others to see right through you if you fail to show the same level of effort that you are trying to get out of them.

A few of my teammates and I used to get so upset with a player on our team because he would be constantly yelling at the other guys. However, he himself was not the hardest worker, or a great producer for the team.

I’m not saying you have to be the best player in order to be a leader. What you do have to be is consistent with what you say and how you act. This goes back to being authentic. You have to not only be authentic in how you lead, but also how you behave.

Focus on Positivity

Another key aspect of being an effective vocal leader is positivity. Have you ever been around someone who thinks they are inspiring others, yet all they are doing is continually pointing out their shortcomings?

I know I have. Rather than becoming motivated by such an individual, I would grow angry with them. You do not want to focus on the negatives as a leader, no matter how much you think it will help someone.

One of the main jobs of a leader is to pull the best out of someone. In order to accomplish this, you must seek to build their confidence. I’m not talking about inflating their abilities and lying to them. It all lies in the approach you take.

A rule I like to follow is focusing on the positive aspects of a game, performance, or day before examining what I need to improve upon. The same should hold true when leading others. Always try to point out something positive they did before going into ways they can be better.

This holds true for coaches as well. A common trait of coaches is to immediately point out all the ways a team messed up at the end of a game. Being someone who dealt with such a coach, I know how deflating this can be.

Instead, aim to identify a few positives first, that way the team does not adopt a mistake focused mindset.

Earn The Right

The last guideline you should follow if you want to be a more vocal leader deals with respect. I’ve said it multiple times already, but you must earn the right to be a vocal leader. There are many different ways this can happen.

You could be a veteran on the team, a starter others look up to, or someone who has shown a high level of knowledge in your sport. Above all, you must be the type of person others respect. This will come by following the three above guidelines and by always remembering to lead with integrity.

It’s difficult to say when you’ve gained such respect. But I think, if you are conscious of it, you will know when this has happened.

Quiet Leader

The second style of leadership I want to introduce to you is that of a quiet leader. Now, many people may not think a leader can be quiet. Admittedly, I almost used the word silent to describe this leadership style but didn’t want to limit the form to not speaking at all.

It’s not that a quiet leader is afraid to talk, or that they don’t even talk. What makes this type of individual a good leader is their ability to motivate and inspire simply through their actions. Think about the phrase, “Lead by example.”

While a vocal leader must walk their talk in order to be effective, a quiet leader has no choice in the matter. For them to lead, it has to be through their efforts that others want to follow them. A quiet leaders walk is all they have.

When someone takes on this type of leadership, others seek to emulate them. When we see someone who behaves in a way we admire, a lot of the time our actions will try to mimic theirs. This is quiet leadership in action.

Of coarse a quiet leader can speak, and most of the time they will. It’s just not their go to style of leadership. What makes a person who leads in this way even more special is that when they do speak, people tend to listen.

If you wish to be a quiet leader, just as with vocal leadership, there are some key characteristics you must adopt.


Integrity means being honest and holding onto your own moral principles. If you want others to follow your example, whether that be teammates or the players you coach, it’s important to understand your guiding principles.

Each of us gets to choose what morals we wish to live by. Upon deciding, you must then hold onto them with the upmost integrity. Act with integrity, and others will follow your example.

Work Ethic

In order to lead by example, you must show a strong work ethic, especially in the athletic world. You have to strive to outwork yourself each day, aiming to become the best player and person you can be.

There is no need to over work yourself, but developing a strong, consistent work ethic is crucial to becoming a quiet leader. This is especially true as a veteran on a team. Demonstrate through your actions what it takes to keep striving to reach a higher level of success.

Remain Positive in the Face of Adversity

In sports and life, adversity is going to find us all. How you respond to such hardships is a true mark of your character. To be a quiet leader, you have to remain positive and optimistic in the face of failure.

Others will be looking to you as an example for how they should act. If you are someone they look up to, and your attitude is negative and pessimistic, soon they will adopt the same. To be an effective leader, always do your best to be positive when faced with adversity.

Be Genuine

The three previous characteristics, as well as any others you may think of will do you no good if they are not real. If you try to force yourself to adopt any of these characteristics solely to gain a following, people will quickly see through you.

Your efforts to better yourself must come from a genuine place. Only then will others truly look to you as an example they wish to follow.

Become a person of integrity because you want to be proud of yourself. Develop a work ethic to push your own limits. And remain positive due to the knowledge that failure and adversity are simply opportunities to learn.

Final Thoughts

We all have the opportunity to become leaders. You can be a leader on your team, in your organization, in your friend group, or within your family. The important question to consider is, what type of leader will you be?

I hope we all strive to be good leaders who uplift others. What should vary is the approach you take to leadership. In this article I outlined two basic leadership styles. I don’t believe one is inherently better than the other, but I do believe one is better than the other for you.

This will largely depend on your personality. I am a naturally quiet person. So, my leadership style tends to be that of a quiet leader. If you are someone who enjoys talking and feels comfortable being more vocal, then vocal leadership is right for you.

Whichever style you feel more comfortable with, remember one thing. Aim to be the type of leader you wish to follow. By doing so, you’ll become the best version of yourself and the best leader you can be.

Which style of leadership to you display?

I hope that this article was helpful and provided you with a deeper look at the two main forms of leadership. If you enjoyed the article, please share it so others can benefit from the content as well.

If you have any questions regarding leadership or any other performance psychology topic, please feel free to reach out to me.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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