The 5 Frequencies of Leadership, and how I apply them to coaching soccer
I recently had the opportunity to give a speech for a different audience that I’m used to – the Centennial National Convention for the Delta Phi Epsilon sorority. The majority of the audience were university undergraduates, either in leadership roles at their sorority or planning to take leadership roles. As I was planning on talking to them about leadership, I didn’t think my usual examples from the board room or the factory floor would be effective. And so I pulled examples from all aspects of my life, from my college days to coaching soccer.
And since I’m passionate about soccer, and even more passionate about coaching youth soccer, I thought I would share those examples I used during my talk to help explain the 5 frequencies of leadership.
I learned the 5 frequencies from Jeff Grimshaw and Tanya Mann of MG Strategy. Jeff is co-author of the book Leadership Without Excuses which I’ve enjoyed, and bought many copies for people. Why the term frequencies? Because leadership isn’t an event. It’s how you show up on a cadence, in a repeated way. It’s a wavelength, it’s a frequency. And you have to be deliberate and consistent in how you show up. The 5 frequencies help you plan how you will show up.
Here they are, with examples from my soccer coaching.
Decisions and Action
What’s important about your decisions and actions is that they are consistent with your espoused beliefs. The problem is, many of the times we are inconsistent with them, we are blind to that fact. Some other priority ends up taking precedence, whether it is fear or greed or laziness.
As a soccer coach, I have long taken the stance that the first priority is the development of the player, both as a soccer player and as a human being. Learning to play as a team or learning the value of hard work are perhaps more important lessons than how to take a short corner. But in the moment, it is very easy to make decisions that are inconsistent with those beliefs.
Early during one indoor game, a player inexplicably reached down and grabbed the ball. It was a direct kick near our goal, and they scored. All of a sudden we’re losing, and the tears started flowing. The best thing for the game would be to remove the player until they composed themselves, but that would put the win over the player, and would reinforce that he made a mistake. Most importantly he would not learn that it is more valuable to overcome your mistake than to sit there feeling sorry for yourself.
The tears kept flowing for another 10 minutes, and the other team scored again. But then he got it together, and the rest of the game played the best I have ever seen him play. And beyond that, his overall composure under adversity has improved. If I would have taken him out, the message would have been “winning this game is more important than player development.”
Reward and Recognize
What do you reward people for? What do you recognize them for? Whether formal or informal, it can have a tremendous impact on culture.
On the soccer field, there is already too much recognition for the goal scorer. Yes, there is plenty of recognition deserved, but given its inherent celebration, there will never be too little recognition for the goal scorer. This is particularly true for parents, who correlate scoring to a successful day on the field, especially if they don’t have the experience to appreciate the subtle aspects of the beautiful game.
I tell my team that we win as a team and lose as a team, and we don’t score by one hero dribbling through 5 players on the opposing side. When we score, if I loudly and clearly congratulate the goal scorer, I end up reinforcing that your value to me is based on scoring goals. I always congratulate the assist giver first for setting up the goal. I will often congratulate a player who set up the entire play, such as a great pass down the wing from the back. And finally, often with less enthusiasm, I will congratulate the goal scorer for what they did right in scoring their goal, such as their technique, positioning, or tenacity.
What you recognize people for speaks volumes about what matters to you most.
Tolerate or Don’t
What do you let go? What’s ok? What makes you stop in your tracks and stop everyone else in their tracks too? You must have a clear line that says “this is not ok.”
When the team does something that is meant to be done as a team, I do not tolerate selfishness or breaking from the pack. It’s not about conformance but about commitment. If I tell them to do a short run, but to do it as a team, if they end up racing each other to be first, I make them do it again. If they do a team cheer, and a couple of them try to do their own thing with a strange sound or scream, I make them do it again. That might seem like a small thing not to tolerate, but what is the purpose of a team cheer? It’s to remind yourself that you are part of a team, committed to that team, and will work hard for that team. If everyone does their own thing, that message is lost.
Show Up Informally
How do you show up? How do you act, dress, converse? The unstructured interactions you have with people set a tone about yourself and about the relationship.
On the soccer field, it is important for the players to respect the position of coach. I can earn their respect, but whether it is an assistant coach or a trainer, I want the position to speak for itself. One thing I do is always show up in coaching gear, or in uniform. It helps them see me a coach, not as just another parent.
The formal communications is what most leaders think of when they think of communication, although it is not as impacting as what is stated above. But you still must be thoughtful about both your message and your medium.
When I have to give a “speech” to the team, which is different than tactical adjustments and technical reminders, there are two things I try to do. First, I try to position myself and the team in a way that is consistent with the message. If I need to give more of a lecture (usually just a practice) about behavior, I will often stand and ensure they sit, because I do need to leverage the authority of the role. If I am trying to welcome them into my vision, I will kneel and get on their level. And if I want them to hear the message as a team, and about being a team, I will often have them form an arm-over-shoulders circle.
My message is just as important. If there is an important message to get across, don’t confuse it with 4 other things that you’d like to say too. That’s called a rant. Your “speech” either has a message or it doesn’t. If you cover 4 things, then it doesn’t.
The 5 Frequencies of leadership is a relatively simply model to help you think about how you influence whatever organization you influence. I selected the coaching examples because I don’t want people thinking that this is just for CEOs. It applies to any place you’re trying to influence behavior.