After watching a round of college football on Saturday (being devastated that my alma mater suffered an upset loss) and browsing through the upcoming readings, I thought what better model of leadership through followership is there than football? Football brings individuals together to achieve a common goal by fostering perseverance, a strong work ethic and instilling mental toughness. The sport cultivates a culture of leadership by forming a troupe of effective followers. A coach must prepare and give his team all the tools necessary in order to achieve success. Outlining a vision and getting a team to embrace this work strategy is a crucial component of a coach’s success. An effective coach must also embody aspects of servant leadership through building a strong network of players and giving them priority in his work. However, this type of followership in football is not purely blind obedience but rather players must take what they learn and adapt it to each of their different situations when game time rolls around. Flexibility in following a plan and adaptability in the face of adversity are critical attributes for a successful football team. This too can be said of any leadership-followership institution. Many college football teams across the country utilize a “no-huddle” offense which attempts to manipulate the defense by throwing them off balance. While the quarterback and other receivers are interpreting signals from their coaches on the sideline, ultimately the quarterback must make the decision on what play must be called after he quickly analyzes the defensive formation. In this situation, leadership responsibility is delegated to a follower. In the article by Joseph Rost, the author writes that followers can become leaders and leaders can become followers (Rost 191). At any point in the game any player can take on the responsibility of being a leader such as a linebacker calling out defensive adjustments. Rost continues that “followers do not do followership but rather leaders and followers do leadership” (Rost 192). Coaches and players are dependent upon each other and must form a cohesive relationship in order to win.
Football viewed through the lens of a distributed perspective on leadership can portray hierarchical levels involving the head coach, position coaches, and players. John Spillane specifies that distributed leadership is about the practice rather than the leaders, leadership roles or leadership functions (Spillane 2). This perspective is defined by the interactions that individuals have with each other rather than just analyzing the actions of the leader. In football, the head coach delegates leadership to his various position coaches. These position coaches work with their respective players preparing them to become the leaders on the field. As summarized by Spillane, this “collective distribution” allows the head coach to effectively prepare his team by delegating authority to others who work separately but interdependently (Spillane 6).
When a football program has a losing season, does this necessarily mean the team is composed of ineffective followers? If a team continually loses, this must surely mean to some extent that the athletes and even assistant coaches have not fully embraced the head coaches vision and have failed to act on it. This raises the question is a leader or a follower responsible for failure of an organization? Does an effective leader always produce success and does an ineffective leader always fail? Does this explain the difference between the leadership of Urban Meyer and Charlie Weiss?
(Go U NU!)