5 Indefinite Laws of Leadership

A quick Amazon search for “Leadership” will return over 77,000 results, so chances are that a definitive approach for leading others doesn’t exist. In fact, the specific tenets of a leadership philosophy are probably secondary to actually having one in the first place. So even though I’m about to lay out a set of components that frame my beliefs on becoming a better leader, know that I encourage folks to define their own path. For me, that self-discovery process was supported by becoming familiar with multiple viewpoints on the subject. Perhaps this will help in a similar way.

*Disclaimer: This is not meant to represent an inclusive framework for leadership (not sure that exists). Rather, this outline has been a way for me to narrow down numerous principles and traits of leadership into a manageable approach. I simply can’t keep track of 20+ laws of leadership AND put them into action on a daily basis, regardless of how irrefutable they are.

It’s been said that “You can’t lead anyone else further than you have gone yourself”. There aren’t many people interested in following someone who can’t even lead themselves. Also consider that leading by example contributes to your credibility while providing a model for others to follow. For these reasons, self-reflection is the first place to start when developing as a leader. My intention is to first lead myself, then lead my family, and finally be a leader for friends and peers. I’ve found that these 5 elements provide the clarity to best know myself, and as such, they also serve as a roadmap for me to more effectively lead my own life. You can find examples at https://coachemup.wordpress.com/purpose-and-beliefs/.

a. Purpose: A life purpose is a personal mission statement which answers the question – “What were you put on this earth to do?” Try to keep it short and sweet so that it can be easily articulated. Ultimately, it’s something to compare your daily activities to. Are your actions congruent with your mission in life? Knowing your life’s purpose will help you stay focused on activities that matter the most to you.

b. Strengths: The majority of people focus on their shortcomings in order to improve their productivity and fulfillment. But maximum potential for success is driven by our innate talents and abilities. Instead of continuing to fight against your weaknesses, your energy is better spent targeting and developing your personal strengths. When we can live our purpose while leveraging our strengths, we’ll accomplish more with less effort.

c. Core Values: These are the attitudes and beliefs that form an internal compass upon which you navigate through life. A clearly defined set of core values helps you to align your decisions with what you stand for. Without them, it becomes difficult to consistently achieve a sense of wholeness from your actions and behaviors. Your personal core values (and who you are as a leader) are often a reflection of the leaders that made an impact in your life (parents, bosses, coaches, teachers, friends, etc.).

d. Why’s: Most people/companies communicate a combination of three things to others. What they do, How they do it, and Why they do it – and usually in that order. This sequence is certainly a logical and systematic way to deliver information. However, if we study the great leaders of our time, we see the exact opposite. First and foremost, they have inspired action by speaking directly to our emotions – not our sense of reason. Simply put, people don’t buy into what you do; they buy into why you do it. The last time you made a significant and meaningful change in your life, it was probably a deep visceral response to an ideal or belief that moved you enough for you to make a lasting commitment. It’s in that primitive place in us that the “Why’s” exist. From a leadership perspective, I need to know my own “Why’s” before I can communicate or model them to others.

e. Vision: A life vision is a snapshot of the future in which all the things important to you are manifested. Together with your core values, it will provide direction for your daily choices and behaviors. Some people will literally draw a picture of a scene from the future and make decisions that bring them closer to that vision (70th birthday party, retirement party, first book signing, etc.). Another way to develop your personal vision is to draft a copy of your own eulogy. It’s a bit morbid, but deciding what you’d like folks to say about you after you pass can be an effective way to frame your life path. Whatever your vision is, use it to answer the question – Is what I am doing now bringing me closer to my life vision?

Expecting people to follow you based on your position or title is awfully short-sighted. Instead, what great leaders know is that followership is something earned by those who take a genuine interest in others. They ask about things like family, hobbies, unique skills, likes, dislikes, aspirations, and other aspects about people’s lives outside of work. Then they actually listen to the responses. Having these types of down-to-earth interactions is essential to building trust and will foster a culture of positive energy and support. It’s human nature to seek out those who show concern in getting to know us. And when we find it at home, or work, or wherever, we’re happy to deliver the best in us – without being asked or reminded. Theodore Roosevelt may have said it best – “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

People achieve a high level of fulfillment and happiness when passion and skill intersect. Without a high level of natural acumen, passion will only get us so far. Conversely, it’s completely possible that we can be good at something, yet not possess an inherent desire to do that thing for the rest of our lives. Leaders can assist folks in finding this intersection by looking for, and magnifying, their skills/strengths. In fact, great leaders are able to identify strengths within people that they themselves were unaware of. Once identified, tell them and tell them often (it will probably be the first time someone has taken the time to tell them what they do better than anyone else). Follow this up with a plan to further develop and hone these strengths while putting them in positions to best leverage them. Imagine the possibilities of a passionate team composed of individuals who appreciate their own strengths and the complementary strengths of each other.

The hard-lined, opinionated, black and white leadership styles are becoming less and less effective. Modern high achievers are seeking out leaders that inspire action, not dictate it. This isn’t to say that a firm approach doesn’t work, in fact, articulating distinct values and a clear vision is important. The key is being able to align your vision with the visions of others. That connection is most easily made when leaders use their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is characterized by making concerted efforts to understand what makes other people tick, finding out what’s important to them, how they feel about what’s asked of them, and most of all – what inspires them. When a leader is attuned to others in this way, they begin to see the world as their followers do. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes is a mark of serving as a vehement advocate for others – which builds trust. Thinking empathically doesn’t mean you’ll always agree with their viewpoints, just that you honor their perspective and humbly adjust the way you interact with them.

Fundamentally, leadership is not just something we do – it’s a candid expression of who we are. So much so that when people try to fit into a persona of leadership, they come across phony and insecure. On the other hand, authentic leaders who are true to their values and walk the talk, are masters at gaining the trust and confidence of others. They are at ease with not having all the answers and instead foster a culture of synergy that captures the power and wisdom of many. The way that they allow their ego to die and embrace a level of vulnerability also makes those around them feel comfortable in doing the same. In the end, cultures built on a foundation of authenticity simply won’t be subject to the ceilings that stymie artificial and flimsy environments.

Here are some of the resources that helped form my thoughts on leadership;

1. Book: The Element – Robinson
2. Book: How to Win Friends & Influence People – Carnegie
3. Book: The Four Agreements – Ruiz
4. Book: Strengths Finder 2.0 – Rath
5. Book: The High Achiever’s Guide to Happiness – Caesar, Caesar
6. Book: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership – Maxwell
7. Book: 25 Ways to Win with People – Maxwell
8. Book: Linchpin – Godin
9. Article: “What Makes a Leader?” – Goleman, Harvard Business Review, Nov. – Dec. 98
10. Article: “Managing Authenticity” – Goffee & Jones, Harvard Business Review, Dec. 05
11. Article: “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” – Schwartz & McCarthy, Harvard Business Review, Oct. 07
12. Blog: Harvard Business Review Blog Network
13. Web Video: “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” – Simon Sinek http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html
14. Web Video: “A Life of Purpose” – Rick Warren http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/rick_warren_on_a_life_of_purpose.html
15. Web Video: “True Success” – John Wooden http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/john_wooden_on_the_difference_between_winning_and_success.html

– Coach Hall


Coaches are leaders, and leaders build relationships. Theodore Roosevelt framed it up perfectly when he said;

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

From a coaching perspective, this means taking a genuine interest in your athlete’s lives outside of the gym. Great coaches have this relationship-building trait deep in their DNA. They engage in discussions of family, hobbies, unique skills, likes, dislikes, aspirations, and other non-training aspects about athlete’s lives. Then they actually listen to the responses – making their athletes feel uniquely valued. As a young coach, this concept was foreign to me until I met Greg Johnson. Greg was an Olympic Weightlifting teammate and fellow Strength and Conditioning coach. As a weightlifter, he brought an emotional shot of adrenaline to every training session. If he missed a lift on the platform, we all knew to duck our heads in fear of being pelted by flying weight belt. He coached with the same vigor, taking command of a room with his charisma. It didn’t hurt that he was 6’3” and 240 lbs.

The guy was all heart and your best friend within minutes of meeting him. For that reason, his athletes would have run through walls for him. Additionally, he was constantly being invited to (and attending) birthday parties of the young athletes he coached. This influence alone would go on to form my “Birthday Party” coaching philosophy (read more about it here). My most treasured coaching moments involve sharing the floor with Greg – a superhuman coach. Tragically, this week marked the 8 year anniversary of Greg’s death. A car accident may have prematurely ended Greg’s life, but his epic character lives on in the relationships I build with my athletes.

– Coach Hall

Commitment or Compliance?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the word “compliant” – particularly in the context of bringing a team of coaches together such to establish/improve standards and uniformity. I’ll start by acknowledging that standards and uniformity help drive replication and, in turn, predictable outcomes. This type of reliability is at the crux of systems that are developed and scaled by successful companies (think Starbucks). The more a company expands, then the more those systems are relied upon. Conversely, the absence of a sturdy system will result in an exponential drop in product quality.

So then, being compliant to the system is a key factor for success, but this is where semantics makes an entrance. Compliance is a word that I used fairly liberally in the past, and even then I’m not sure it inspired the type of behavior I was looking for. Looking back at some of those managerial days, when I reminded my coaches to stay compliant to the program, there was usually an initial response back to the company line. But it seemed somewhat reluctant, and inevitably I was having the same conversation a few months later. The compliance pep talk/overtone never really proved to be an effective approach.

I believe that words have more power than most folks realize. When I put myself in a coach’s shoes, the word “compliance” has the power to change the feeling of whatever is being discussed at the time – and not in a good way. Particularly when used among educated, driven, and high energy coaches. Generally, these are people who reject the notion of conforming to a formalized standard – especially one developed by a source/person that isn’t part of the daily work environment. In this way, complying is sterile and uninspiring.

As mentioned, it’s true that the quality of a company’s product relies on a certain level of structural/programming compliance; I’m just not convinced that speaking about it in a literal sense is the best approach. Consider that a “compliant coach” is a commodity – an ordinary and replaceable cog in the machine. The compliant coach conforms to the systematic rules of the machine so that efficiency and replication are maximized while waste and disruption are minimized. So what’s wrong an efficient, reliable, and therefore, sustainable machine? Nothing…if you’re the machine. Furthermore, this Industrial Model is built on two beliefs. One is that the coaches, or cogs, are easily replaced when they aren’t interested in being cogs anymore. And the second is that the machine can perpetually thrive using only the creativity of few (cogs do as they’re told, they don’t innovate or ask hard questions). If, however, this doesn’t jive with your beliefs, then it’s time to change the way we think, talk, and act when defining coaching and leadership in business cultures.

I believe that it is the coaches within the system, the human element of the machine, that will innovate and drive continual success. In as much, they are held in the highest regard, despite the easily seen results produced by the machine. I also believe this is where the conversation of greatness starts and finishes. Likewise, an organization without a tangible strategy to honor the personal and professional development of its coaches – is living on borrowed time. Soon to be made obsolete by former cogs.

One way to look at this is creating a culture (overarching philosophy) of commitment, instead of compliance. What if each coach approached everything they did (athlete interaction, programming, equipment maintenance, etc.) with an entrepreneur mindset? What if they planned and executed their work as if they all had financial/emotion ownership of the facility? Then the conversation changes from a compliance reminder to an excellence and commitment agreement. An agreement that high level coaches can get excited about, because they are made to feel as if they are critically important to the success of their company. The easy way to do this is to respect, support, challenge, and serve as their advocate. Additionally, few things make someone feel more important to “the cause” than being genuinely and strategically developed. Consider these excerpts from a recent Harvard Business Review blog post :

Investment in professional development sends a clear message that they matter now and in the future…And don’t forget to have fun. Celebrating exceptional work, big wins, and milestones brings people together and acknowledges their value to the business…Ultimately, everything you (and your people) do should be about the business. One way to strengthen that commitment is to align an individual’s interests with those of the business.

All that said, even within a philosophy that emphasizes ownership vs. compliance, it’s probably smart to examine the tenure and evolution of each coach as an individual. It’s possible that some coaches require a higher level of actual compliance than others (although I might not call it “compliance”). Here is a breakdown of the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition and it’s application to athletic development coaching. I believe most coaches naturally develop along this progression when they work under an established system. As such, identifying which stage a coach is at can help to set expectations (know the rules before you break the rules) and speed the rate of progression. (Seth Godin definitions in red)

1. Novice

-wants to be given a manual, told what to do, with no decisions possible.

Coach one exercise at a time. Moving from one exercise/drill to another during a singular training session with no real reference or forethought about how the exercises/drills relate to each other. Scripted demonstrations and cues. They crave compliance.

2. Advanced beginner

-needs a bit of freedom, but is unable to quickly describe a hierarchy of which parts are more important than others.

Coach one workout at a time. Starts to understand the relationships between exercises/drills within a single workout. Still doesn’t grasp the full context of the global system and how the workouts are pieced together. They accept a moderate level of compliance.

3. Competent

-wants the ability to make plans, create routines and choose among activities.

Coach the system. Fully comprehends the entire system of training and the relative role of each workout, and, by extension, the role of each exercise/drill. They now “know the rules”. Only short-term response to compliance reminders.

4. Proficient

-the more freedom you offer, the more you expect, the more you’ll get.

The ability to make appropriate adjustments within the parameters of the “system”. These individuals will begin to make the system better with their strategic tinkering without the risk of disturbing the overall plan. They begin to resent compliance.

5. Expert

-writes the manual, doesn’t follow it. If you treat an expert like a novice, you’ll fail.

Remove the guard rails and let them proactively redefine the system by “breaking the rules”. They reject compliance.

A final quote that simplifies coaching development and compliance;

Master your instrument. Master the music. And then forget all that bullshit and just play.

– Charlie Parker, Jazz Musician

– Coach Hall

Relationship Barometers

As a young boy, John Wooden’s father gave him a card with a Seven Point Creed written on it.  Coach Wooden would go on to use the wisdom in each point as part of his personal and professional belief system.  The fifth point on this creed was “Make friendship a fine art”.  As a coach, Wooden didn’t always foster immediate friendships with his players, but his genuine ambition to teach skills that served his players well after their time on the hardwood certainly laid the foundation for lifelong relationships – many of which were recounted in eulogies after his passing.  The notion that coaches can/should nurture personal connections with athletes is central to my own Coaching Constitution;

  1. Develop Relationships
  2. Have Fun while Minding the Details
  3. Learn Something New Everyday

I believe a personal relationship is more valuable than a physical adaptation.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all the tactical components of designing, implementing, and adjusting training programs.  But I’m most energized from coaching when I’m able to learn about an athlete’s life outside of the gym.  Great coaches do this without even thinking about.  Taking an authentic interest in others is just part of their DNA.

Because it’s first on my Coaching Constitution, building relationships with athletes is always at the top of my mind.  Nevertheless, it also seems valuable to have some form of objective measure for these personal connections.  Here are three examples of Relationship Barometers.

Birthday Parties

This is a concept I began using shortly after starting to work with young athletes.  Prior to that, most of my coaching experience had been with collegiate athletes.  Transitioning from college strength and conditioning to the business of youth athlete development took some getting used to.  Quite frankly, it didn’t start too well for me.  But then my boss at the time made a very specific comment to the coaching staff that changed everything.  He said, “Remember guys, we aren’t here to be their friends, we’re here to coach them”.  I think the point he was trying to get across was for us to always be sensitive to difference between being “friends” and being “friendly”.  But at face value, he was wrong.  Without fail, the young athletes and their parents (who footed the bill for training at our facility) that kept coming back to us were also the ones that had the strongest relationships (read also: friendships) with the coaches.  That coach – athlete connection proved to be the strongest predictor of repeat business.  And like I mentioned, it is also the biggest personal reward for me.  What does all this have to do with birthday parties?  Well, my goal was to develop such strong relationships with young athletes and their families, that I would get invited to their birthday parties.   It might seem a little silly, but you show me a coach that consistently gets invites to birthday parties of his/her young athletes, and I’ll show you a great coach.


I stole this one from Martin Rooney.  During his presentation at this year’s Perform Better Summit, Coach Rooney put up a picture of himself in high school at a track meet with a medal that he’d just won for javelin.  He’s standing next to a man with his arm around his shoulders and Coach Rooney starts talking about that meet being a huge meet for him, and that day being one of the best of his life at that point.  And, he didn’t want a picture with his Dad that day, or his Mom, or his teammates – he wanted a picture with his coach.  And this was back in the day when a picture meant a little more, because you only had 24 on the roll and you had to take your film to a store to be developed.  Coach Rooney then asked everyone in the audience how many of their athletes or clients ever want to take a picture with them.  He said that he knows a coach is building relationships when he sees an athlete asking their mom to take a picture together with them.


Over the summer, a friend sent me an ESPN article about Paul Longo, the new strength and conditioning coach at Notre Dame.  The article’s main focus is the increased importance and compensation of Division 1 head strength and conditioning coaches, particularly at prominent football schools (read the entire article here).  But the author also slipped in a subtle reference to Coach Longo’s thoughts on building relationships;

‘That’s why I’ve been in it this long,’ Longo said. ‘The relationships are what keeps you going. Sometimes you’re the heavy, sometimes you’re the go-between. But it’s a great thing to be a mentor.’

This point is hammered home when you find out that Coach Longo was the best man in the wedding of one of his players.  Clearly the two of them had a special relationship, and while it might be difficult to replicate that on a big scale, this is just another indicator of how great coaches can make a significant impact in the lives of their athletes.

Whether it birthdays, pictures, or weddings, you’ll know that you’re creating connections when your athletes want you to be involved in their special moments.  If you can think of other ways to put coach – athlete relationships skills to the test, add them in the comments below.

– Coach Hall

What Does a Coach Make?

Occasionally, someone will ask me if I make a good living as a coach. It’s usually pretty clear that they’re talking about money, so I catch them a little off guard with my answer. First off, I believe that money is only one form of currency that we receive from our chosen career. In his book, “The High Achiever’s Guide to Happiness”, Vance Caesar provides a list of career currencies that won’t show up on a W-2 or 1099 Form, but are arguably more valuable and deserve ample attention;

  • Knowledge and Growth – This one is critical for me. A systematic personal and/or professional development plan will pay dividends long after you retire.
  • Relationships – Leadership and influence are contingent on strong relationships. As a coach, I thrive on them, particularly the ones that give me positive energy. You know that feeling of being more alive after working with a group of exceptional athletes?, that’s the value of relationships.
  • Fun – Don’t forget this one.  Do you have fun at work? If so, then you can hardly call it work.
  • Life Choices – When assessing a potential career opportunity, or even your current situation, how well does it fit into the type of life you want? Can you live close to family? Are your nights and weekends free to spend time with your kids? Are you able to travel the globe and experience other cultures?
  • Legacy – If you enjoy building something from the ground up, then legacy is important to you. Particularly if what you build outlasts your own career. Knowing that you’re contributing to a cause that will in turn benefit others for a long time can be way more rewarding than a paycheck.
  • Reputation and Brand – Most coaches would take a pay cut if it meant they were able to become part of an industry-leading organization that they respect.

Of all these currencies, the coaching profession is rich in Relationships, Fun, and Legacy. Certainly, there are opportunities to maximize Money, Knowledge and Growth, Life Choices, and Reputation and Brand, but most of us are in the game to connect with athletes, play every day, and make lasting impressions.

One of my favorite video clips looks at this concept from a teacher’s perspective, but the coaching applications are obvious.

So, what does a coach make?

  • A coach makes athletes work harder than they thought possible.
  • A coach makes athletes develop discipline, focus, and work ethic.
  • A coach makes athletes realize how special they are.
  • A coach makes athletes think critically.
  • A coach makes athletes more self-confident.
  • A coach makes athletes aware of the path where the heart leads.
  • A coach makes it possible to fail without fear.
  • A coach makes personal connections that last a lifetime.
  • A coach makes a difference.

– Coach Hall

Leading and Coaching Young Athletes

OK, I admit it.  I’m a bit of a hoarder.  But not in the A&E TV show way.  Actually, Tom Rath and the Gallup folks explain my need for an extra Terabyte of computer storage as a strength in “Input”.  According to StrengthsFinder 2.0, “People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.”  Two forms of information I’ve compiled and saved over the years are podcasts and audio interviews.

One audio interview in particular has served as a continuous source of inspiration for me.  It provokes a new thought process on coaching and leadership each time I listen to it.  I downloaded it from the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA) website a few years back when it was part of their Free Resource Center.  Brian Grasso and the IYCA are the leading advocates for the development of the ART of coaching, especially as it relates to working with young athletes.  Their organizational approach is epitomized in this 30 minute interview with David Jack, an Athletic Development coach and General Manager at the CATZ training center in Acton, MA.  Although it’s not available as part of their Free Resource Center anymore, Brian Grasso has allowed me to post the interview here.  So clear 30 minutes from your schedule and listen to two great coaches talk about leadership and the art of coaching.

Listen Here

I know you’ll get a handful useful nuggets from this audio interview.  Here are a few highlights for me;

Give me two athletes…give one of the athletes the worst coach in the world with the best program, and give the other athlete the best coach in the world with the worst program.  100% of the time, the second athlete, the one with the best coach with the worst program is going to evolve into the better human being and better athlete in general… – Brian Grasso

…that is a lifelong impact that every single coach has an opportunity to make on a kid…you can change their life, and you will. – David Jack

…put them (athletes) in opportunities to lead…it lets them own what we’re trying to teach them. – David Jack

Leadership is identifying the latent traits that are great in people and helping draw them out. – David Jack

Thanks again to Brian Grasso, David Jack, and the IYCA for providing great content.

– Coach Hall