Successful teams have strong leaders and the importance of this role is evident in all categories of sports. The performance of a leader is very clear in interactive games and during matches. Although less obvious in co-active situations, the leader’s contribution to the effectiveness of a team’s performance is also influential.

Leadership maybe considered as a behavioural process that influences individuals and groups towards set goals. As such, a leader has the dual function of ensuring player satisfaction while steering the individual or group to success.

The qualities of an effective leader:

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There are three traditional types of leadership used in sports varying from an amateur level up to the elite level. Many coaches across team or individual sports will have characteristics from one of these styles if not all.

1)      Autocratic Leaders

2)      Democratic Leaders

3)      Laissez-Faire Leaders

Firstly, the Autocratic style of leadership tends to make all the decisions and is motivated to complete the task as quickly and effectively as possible. This leadership style is ‘authoritarian’ and does not take into account the opinions or preferences of the group. The autocratic leader will not delegate responsibility and focuses on group performance and achieving groups. This style would be most effective when quick decisions are needed for large groups/teams i.e. whole team warm up session, when groups are hostile and discipline is needed, in the cognitive stages of learning (Beginners).

Secondly, the Democratic style of leadership tends to share the decisions with the group and is often ready to delegate responsibility. This type of leadership believes in consultation and is interested in developing meaningful interpersonal relationships within the team. The belief is that is that by giving ‘ownership’ of the task to each individual, the group will work harder, developing unity and a common purpose. This style would be effective in a co-active game or when time constraints are not as exacting , personal support may be required , if groups are small and when in the autonomous stages of learning has been achieved (elite level).

Thirdly, the laissez– faire style, the leader will stand aside and allow the group to make its own independent decisions. This style can happen automatically and will result in a loss of group direction if the leader is inadequate. Lewin (1985) found that when subjected to this style of leadership, group members were inclined to be aggressive towards each other and gave up easily when mistakes occur.

The characteristics adopted by the leader depends fundamentally upon the ‘favourableness’ of the situation. As is seen in the table below, the most successful teams will have a strong leader, the task is clear and understood by the players and there is a positive relationship between leader and players.

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Going back to the leadership styles, an autocratic leader will be most effective in both the most favourable and least favourable situations, whereas a democratic leader will be most effective in moderately favourable situations.

From reading this article, you should understand how an important role leadership plays in sports, the different types of leadership and how each is suitable to different demands and situations. Above all, that question everyone thinks about, how to be an effective leader. Successful coaches ranging from Sir Alex Ferguson to Warren Gatland , use all the three styles of leadership within their role , switching from one to the other depending on the situational need.