One of the first people who taught me about leadership was my high school running coach, Mr. Foley. He demonstrated many important leadership qualities, but what stands out in my mind was his ability to create a positive environment. Not only did we have fun, but our teams and individual athletes were often ranked among the best in the state. Coincidence? I think not.
Mr. Foley created an incredibly organized system for recognition. Throughout the cross country season, athletes could earn “t-shirt points” for all sorts of contributions, from attendance at practice to running a personal best time. The points were, for the most part, unrelated to talent—if you worked hard and had a good attitude, you could earn points. Coach Foley had other means of recognizing the top performers, including end-of-season awards and keeping meticulous records of historical performance data.
This recognition system went a long way toward creating a positive team environment, but we also took the time for silly fun. Over the years, Mr. Foley had created a line-up of ridiculous competitions called the “Silver Creek Games.” The team was divided into Silver Creek teams, and once a week or so, we competed in wacky events such as the “egg toss” or the perennial favorite, the “Omni Push,” in which groups of athletes pushed hatchback cars through a parking lot obstacle course. What did this have to do with running? Not much at all, but it was a blast, and it drew people together. Continue reading “Memories of an Affirming Leader” »