As explored in the first article, effective communication starts with synchronizing intent with those who are at the root of your program’s success. While you are reviewing your intent before a new season, you can incorporate this next step into the process, which is to explore and clearly define a universal language for your program’s culture. In other words, you will create a common set of terms and phrases that are recognized by all involved. Terms you may use daily such as “leadership”, “respect” and “family” can have a variety of definitions depending on generational, gender, and cultural differences among individuals. It can be easy to assume that these familiar terms hold the same meanings for everyone. However, when you build awareness as to the variety of meanings these terms have for the individuals in your program, those assumptions may not necessarily ring true. For example, everyone comes from a unique family background in terms of family roles, responsibilities and expectations. If you want your team to function as a “family”, you will have to define the type of “family” culture you intend to create.
This point was driven home for me a few years ago when I was facilitating an exercise for a group of Division-1 team captains and leaders. These student-athletes were handpicked to participate in an innovative Athletic Leadership Development Program at Santa Clara University. The program was attended by emerging leaders representing every sport on campus, both male and female. We were able to create a unique opportunity for an open dialogue to occur between athletes from very different backgrounds and perspectives. I asked each student-athlete, coach, and administrator in attendance to reflect on and share his or her definition of effective leadership. The responses were surprisingly varied. Yes, the core essence was similar, but each person’s background and experiences colored each definition. In the end, we took into consideration all the subtle nuances of all of the definitions in order to come to a consensus on the clearest and most effective definition. We successfully met our objective of giving the leaders a universal language that they could take to their teams moving forward.
Once you complete this process of creating a universal language, you will want to incorporate it into your existing culture. This language can be incorporated not only in your team rules and policies but can also be incorporated into an original team Mission Statement. The more the language is reinforced through daily modeling and visual reminders, the more likely it will be internalized by everyone. It is important to post reminders in the locker room, team meeting room and coaches’ offices. By doing so, you will be providing a concrete reference to be learned, reviewed, and applied, as a tool, for creating a stronger sense of accountability to the team throughout the season. By posting visual reminders you guarantee that the concepts will be accessible for review and reinforcement at all times. Hopefully, you will start to hear others, not only use your universal language but also embody it consistently through their actions.
The process of creating, disseminating and embodying this universal language will require time and dedication. To get started now, review the language you consistently use to relay your vision and messages. Do your best to identify those terms or phrases that could potentially have different meanings for your audience. With this type of preparation, you will be ready to start creating your universal language in the near future.