By way of background, she coxed all four years of high school and now she’s on the Ohio State crew team as a freshman (and as an FYI, Ohio State is the reigning NCAA champion in women’s rowing). For the uninitiated, the coxswain is the tiny person in the front or back of the boat who steers, calls cadence, and runs the boat. Essentially they’re the informal leader in that 9 person organization (the boat has 8 rowers and a coxswain in it).
I’ve shared leadership lessons from a coxswain before based on my observation of her at a high school regatta. As she’s grown as a coxswain and a leader, I thought it would be a good time to sit down with her and find out what she’s learned about leading her peers. Our discussion follows. After each of her answers, I’ve shared some thoughts too on how you can take those lessons back to your organization if you’re in a role that requires you to lead your peers.
What’s the most challenging aspect of leading peers?
Finding the balance between being a coach of my peers but not overstepping any boundaries, picking on people and being seen as being bossy are big challenges. For example there is this one girl on my team who did poorly in a scrimmage and we lost all our races as a boat. She’s one of the faster girls on the team and I was regularly correcting her during another part of the practice trying to get her to fix her technique. Eventually I got frustrated and went from being more supportive and coaching her to being really direct because I was frustrated. That approach didn’t work very well because both of us got frustrated. What I learned is in those situations, I should go to my coach to have him intervene and provide coaching rather than trying to fix it after I get frustrated.
Mike’s thoughts: It’s a fine line when you lead peers. Know when you’re about to cross that line into being bossy and instead seek to involve your boss or another influential stakeholder to provide the required coaching, feedback and guidance. Once you’re branded as “bossy” it’s hard to get over that.