Kenneth Ray Carter is an American businessperson and education activist. He grew up in Richmond, California where he attended Richmond High School and set records in basketball. He loved sports like most young men but early on he learned the value of having a good education in life.
As fate would have it, he would go on to coach basketball at his former school with his son playing for him. His son Damien would go on to break the records he set – how amazing. The movie Coach Carter is based on his time as the basketball coach of Richmond High in the late 90s.
In the eyes of some, he was something of a controversial leader but he had a vision to change lives. He saw something special in his players, that they didn’t realize themselves and helped change their lives.
Here are 5 powerful leadership lessons you can learn from his life:
1. Set the tone from day one
The thing about leadership is that you have to be at least one step ahead of your followers. This is because you have the vision of where you want to lead them so it’s necessary that you stand out. At his first practice session, Coach Carter made it clear what he expected of his team to do. Communicating your expectations is one thing, and ensuring that they are met is another.
Coach Carter communicated his expectations to the team and threw out some of the players who didn’t want to cooperate. Doing that showed the rest of the team that he was serious about what he was doing which established his authority. Leaders who fail to back up their expectations with the corresponding action are ineffective and limit their potential.
2. Get rid of the bad apples
A team is only as strong as its weakest link, which affects the overall team dynamic. The way you handle bad apples on your team determines how the rest of the team members will see you. If you fail to deal decisively with bad apples, you will lose the respect of your top performers. When that happens it becomes difficult to accomplish anything significant with your team.
Getting rid of the troublesome individuals on the team cements your authority and earns you respect. Ken Carter did this regularly during his time as coach of the Richmond High basketball team. He dismissed players if they weren’t following instructions to maintain a good team dynamic. If you watch the short documentary about his tenure at Richmond, the common theme is he was a big disciplinarian.
As a leader, it’s not always easy taking extreme measures to get things done but sometimes it’s necessary. However, getting rid of bad apples gives you an opportunity to achieve your team goals and realize your full potential.
3. Embody your values
One of the things that Coach Carter wanted his team to understand was that there was more to life than basketball. For some of the players, winning championships felt like it would be the highlight of their lives. He constantly tried to make them see that apart from basketball, a good education would give them more opportunities in life.
Through his personal accomplishments and being a good citizen, it made his leadership a lot more authentic. Leaders who embody their values and preach what they practice, earn the respect of those that they lead. I guess that’s why to effectively lead others you need to successfully lead yourself first.
People don’t take you seriously if you’re a hypocrite who doesn’t do the things he expects of his team. If you realize that your team is a reflection of you, it will make you think differently about what you do. When you see things that you don’t like in your team, it may be good to check yourself as well.
“Now just because you deserve this doesn’t mean they’re gonna give it to you. sometimes you gotta take what’s yours.” – Coach Ken Carter
4. Lead with conviction
The most influential leaders lead with passion and conviction. Their enthusiasm is infectious and gets the rest of the team going in the same direction. People are emotional beings after all and are moved more by emotion than they are by logic. It doesn’t necessarily mean that all of them are loud but when they speak, others can feel their passion and intensity.
When you get your team members to feel what you feel, and you have the same heartbeat, amazing things happen. It’s almost impossible for anything to stop a team that speaks with one voice and has unity of purpose. Coach Carter was a pretty eloquent man and whatever he said carried weight. He exuded passion for hard work and commitment to achieve excellence in life.
5. Stand alone if necessary
The ultimate test of a leader is when they come face to face with the opposition without a backup squad by their side. When it seems like the whole world is against you, it’s easy to question your conviction and give up. Every leader at some point will go through this kind of situation and their response determines their ultimate destiny.
For the most part, Coach Carter’s players and their parents hated his rules regarding playing basketball. He went to the extent of banning basketball until his players improved their academic performance in the class. His stance drew national media attention and somewhat negative publicity. To make it worse, even the teachers were against his pro-education stance. It got to a point where he was willing to give up coaching because he couldn’t support the wrong values.
To his surprise, after it was voted that basketball should resume, his players decided to finish what he started. Instead of immediately going back to playing, they dedicated themselves to improving their grades as originally agreed. They finally did and continued playing basketball after that. Most of Coach Carter’s players went on to get scholarships to university as he had desired for them.
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