Becoming a Great Leader
Great leaders are instantly recognizable because they are different, in a good way.If you want to become a great leader, you’ll need to be ready to forge your own path. But that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone.
Adam Wainwright explains why leadership is essential for success in sport, and gives advice on how you can become an effective leader for your team.
Being a great leader is a quality that everyone recognizes and admires.
Ask any prominent athlete, business person, or public figure what contributed to their success—and nearly every one will say they got help from mentors along the way.
They’ll graciously tell you about all the people who helped them. What they learned. And how the support of these leaders helped them achieve their goals.
But ask those same people how to grow into a great leader yourself, and the answer won’t be so clear.
Most of us intuitively know how leaders help others succeed. We also understand why effective leaders are held in such high regard. But when it comes to describing a blueprint for becoming a great leader—most people come up blank.
And there’s a good reason why: The path to becoming a leader is different for everyone.
By definition, a leader is someone who stands out from the crowd. Someone who is head and shoulders above their peers. And most importantly—a leader is a person who helps others succeed.
Great leaders are instantly recognizable because they are different, in a good way.
If you want to become a great leader, you’ll need to be ready to forge your own path. But that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone.
For any athlete trying to develop leadership qualities, having a solid mentor is one of the best ways to fast-track progress.
This mentor won’t be able to give you a step by step plan to achieve your leadership goals. But they can help you learn the guiding principles that drive most of the great leaders in sport.
If you’re wondering where to find a mentor like this—we’ve got you covered.
A Respected Leader On and Off the Field
Legendary MLB pitcher, Adam “Waino” Wainwright, is one of the greatest leaders playing baseball today.
The 41 year-old starter for the St. Louis Cardinals is still at the top of his game—closing in on a massive 200 career wins (currently sitting at 195).
Wainwright has led the league multiple times in wins, games started, and innings pitched. Statistically, he’s posted numbers in 2021 & 2022 that rival some of the best periods of his epic 17 year journey in major league baseball.
This degree of longevity already makes Adam a unique specimen among elite athletes. But his leadership qualities are one of a kind as well.
In an article that credits Waino with leading the Cardinals 2022 playoff push—he is described as “the unquestioned leader of the [Cardinals] pitching staff.” With teammates expressing their gratitude for, “how much Wainwright cares about the team off the field and in the clubhouse.”
Outside of baseball, Adam is well known for his philanthropic work. The fact that he describes winning the Roberto Clemente Award in 2020 as, “The greatest honor of my entire career,” shows just how important leadership off the field is to Wainwright.
He is the founder and president of Big League Impact. Through this charity, Waino has been instrumental in raising over $5.8 million, which has been used to fund several international and local operations to provide clean water, food, healthcare, and education to those in need.
We could go for a lot longer about examples of Adam’s leadership skills. But the main thing you need to know is that when it comes to leaders in baseball—Wainwright is in a league of his own.
In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the main points of an exclusive video session Adam recorded with Versus about Becoming a Great Leader.
If you’d like to see the full video, sign up for one of our plans and download the app.
Our free plan gives you access to one video session of your choice. While the standard and premium options include the full library of video content from our star-studded roster.
In addition to video sessions, all Versus plans let you utilize our advanced AI-powered technology to ask interactive questions from our team. These conversations are more personal in nature and cover information from different angles than our videos and articles.
As well as Waino, you can use the app to talk to other titans of Major League Baseball, such as Albert Pujols, Ozzie Smith, and Fernando Tatis Jr. Each athlete covers everything from early life, skill development, training, mindset, hobbies, family, and much more.
If you’re ready to level up—Versus has everything you need to get better.
Until then, it’s time to take a look at Adam Wainwright’s advice on becoming a great leader.
Lead with Actions
“If you are preaching one thing but living a different thing—that doesn’t look good to the team,” warns Wainwright. “I try to lead by example a lot and only use words when necessary.”
Waino learned to embody this philosophy when he was a rookie with the Cardinals and being mentored by Braden Looper and Chris Carpenter.
He explains that Looper, in particular, took him under his wing and taught him “what time to get to the field, how to dress, how to tip people—all kinds of stuff.”
But one of Waino’s most distinct memories about both athletes was how they approached playing catch.
Adam recalls being surprised by the intensity with which Carpenter in particular played catch.
“Everything had intent and conviction behind it,” states Wainwright. “Every throw mattered. And he always hit me in the chest,”
He also witnessed the dedication and work ethic of Albert Pujols.
“This guy is the best hitter on the planet for a reason,” explains Adam. “He was taking hours and hours of swings in spring training, then working on specific things in his craft throughout the season.”
Same with Yadier Molina. “He’s the first guy there,” states Waino. “By the time I get to the field, he’s already been there in the batting cage and working with the younger catchers, pouring into them.”
Of course, Wainwright had conversations with all of these players. But that wasn’t what impacted him the most—it was their actions.
“I was watching. I was following. I was listening,” he reveals. “Trying to learn as much as I could without even having a conversation.”
Key Takeaway: According to Waino,
“Being a leader means always living out what you’re trying to get across in your message. Words aren’t always necessary”
There Are No Shortcuts
“You can’t fake your way through being a leader,” explains Adam. “It’s got to be authentic. It’s got to be real. If a guy hasn’t earned that spot yet—he can't just stand up on a table and start yelling at people. It doesn’t work that way.”
Saying there are no shortcuts to becoming a leader isn’t about the journey being hard work. It’s about the fact that to be a great leader, there is specific work you must attend to. And doing the work is non-negotiable.
“Guys have to know that you care,” states Wainwright. “They have to know you love them, and that you want them to succeed and prosper. And you get that by living it with them. Going through those battles with them. And having real, honest discussions to grow together.”
Not every player has the fortitude to offer this level of support to their teammates. But if you want to be held in the same regard as great leaders like Wainwright, Molina, or Pujols—that’s the standard you need to aim for.
Key Takeaway: Being a great player on its own isn’t enough to be a great leader. You must also be part of your teammates' lives and support them to grow and succeed.
Remember, great leaders are all distinct individuals. What makes them so admired and memorable, are the unique ways they utilize their skills and knowledge to elevate the game, lifting up everyone around them.
The most revered leaders might have some characteristics that are similar to their forefathers and peers. But more often than not—they represent a new persona in their sporting community.
Look at the leaders we’ve discussed in this article: Adam Wainwright, Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, and Chris Carpenter. They’re all undeniably leaders in baseball and the community—but each is quite a distinct character who developed in their own unique way.
In the video, Adam describes a pivotal point in his leadership journey after Chris Carpenter retired. There was a void to fill. And it was Waino’s turn to step up. But he spent weeks asking himself the question...
“Who do I need to be for this team?”
Waino knew that Carpenter’s “stern” and “really intense” leadership style wasn’t him. But he also wasn’t naturally a relaxed, “happy go lucky” type leader, either.
In the end, Adam realized,
“What I needed to be was me. That was going to help our team be the best it could possibly be”
Wainwright’s unique blend of playing ability, personal attributes, and the wisdom his mentors had instilled in him were exactly what his teammates needed from him.
They didn’t need Waino to become someone else to lead them. He had done the work. He was ready to lead. And the space was there. All that was left, was for Adam to step into his new role as one of the senior leaders of the Cardinals.
Key Takeaway: You can draw inspiration and be influenced by other leaders. But when your time comes—the only way to be an effective leader is to be yourself.
Prepare the Next Generation
“Great leaders exist to replace themselves,” states Wainwright. “They’re leaders creating leaders.”
Anytime you’re feeling confused or uncertain about leadership—come back to this point as your guiding principle.
Remember that above all else, a leader is someone who helps others thrive and succeed.
This is true in every setting.
Whether it’s politics, business, sport, or the community. All great leaders are dedicated to preparing the next generation to take over from them.
These leaders are often high achievers themselves. But while being a successful politician, building a profitable business, or becoming an elite athlete are all noble pursuits. On their own—they don’t equate to being a good leader.
Great leaders. The ones who are remembered for a generation or more. Are those who make a positive impact on their community. And build up enough momentum in the lives they touch, that their influence continues for many years to come.
If you want to become a leader of this caliber, Versus provides direct access to elite athletes and world-class coaches, who will support and mentor you to achieve your goals.
If you’re ready to get better, all you need to do is choose a plan, download the app, and start learning.
Keep up with the Versus community.
Get notified of new content releases, new features, and much more!
Sign up to get new article notifications
Join our newsletter for new course release updates and get early access to upcoming course trailers.