What makes a leader?

Is it nature or nurture? Can leaders be created or are they born to be leaders? Do leaders have special DNA which separates them from others? Do they perceive things differently than the masses?

I coached collegiate basketball for 23 years, and I found there were very few women who came equipped with all the characteristics which made a good leader. From my perspective leaders worked hard every day, arrived on time, demanded that others give as much as they did, lived what they preached, communicated positively with their coaches and teammates, showed responsibility, lived ethically, and always gave their best effort.

My players were young and unprepared to lead from a position where they had to demand and question their peers. While this was a quality that I also noticed lacking in my supervisors over the years, I knew our young women had to step up to become good leaders or we weren’t going to win very many games.

I wanted a leader who was an extension of me, who could change the flow of the game by making a call, who could tell her teammates to recover from the past play, who could urge them to play harder, and who had the ability to overcome whatever adversity the game offered.

What young woman came equipped with all those qualities?


Did I give up? Did I decide we simply would have to suffer without a leader? No. I decided we would teach our leaders to become better leaders.


I began to educate our leaders on qualities I wanted. At the beginning of the year, I presented them with a list of expectations. It was imperative they know what I wanted from them. Each player also had a team notebook which was filled with information concerning mental preparedness. Even though each player was taught how to reduce negativism, build team chemistry, achieve the right internal climate, respond to pressure positively and to resolve conflicts the right way, our leaders were to be the ones who modeled these behaviors.

In order to make our leaders better, we worked on their leadership by:

  • Providing consistent evaluations on their positive qualities and the qualities they needed to improve.
  • Allowing them to have responsibilities which included coaching the younger players.
  • Giving them the opportunity to be heard and letting them know their words made a difference.
  • Supporting their ownership of the team by giving them daily duties which were service duties to the team.
  • Offering support to them when they tried to lead the team through example or when they required teammates to work harder.

Every day I had an opportunity to talk to the leaders, to demand from them what I wanted, to push them to become better. Did all my leaders evolve to the point I wanted? No. BUT they all improved their leadership qualities.

The ones who became the best leaders were the ones who were willing to listen, to change and to continue to learn from their mistakes.