There is no handbook on being a leader. And there certainly is not just one way to go about that duty. While the 49ers might have leaders on the team, there are not many who fit the traditional label.
There is, however, one unquestioned leader in the organization.
* * *
Question: Who do you see as the player(s) on our squad now who are most respected and embody the kind of internal makeup that establishes them as unquestioned leaders? (Hightop)
Answer: That’s a very good question, and one that’s not easy to answer.
When I first started showing up around this team, there were leaders throughout the locker room. Those leaders – Tim McDonald, Steve Young, Gary Plummer, Jerry Rice, Ray Brown and, later, Derrick Deese and Jeremy Newberry, among others – took on important roles of policing the locker room and setting the tone for the team.
Leadership is difficult to define. Whatever it is, I know McDonald had it. Before him, there was Ronnie Lott, who might have been the best leader in franchise history. McDonald was soft-spoken, yet wise and forceful. Lott was fiery, serious and commanded respect from everyone, including the coaching staff.
If you asked me which player is the best leader in this current 49ers locker room, it’s very difficult to answer. Linebacker Takeo Spikes might fill that role in the most traditional sense. He is a veteran who does his job well and has played in Pro Bowls. That’s a good start. But he’s also well-liked and extremely charismatic.
Most of the other players you would put into the “leader” category are cut more out of the Bryant Young model – and that certainly is not a bad thing.
Young was not a born leader. He worked hard, gained incredible amounts of respect among his peers and grew into that role. B.Y. set a great example and let his actions speak for him. That is the way I see such players as Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and Nate Clements.
Offensively, Shaun Hill and Frank Gore are very good leaders. One 49ers insider has told me on several occasions about Hill’s presence around his teammates on the sideline and in the locker room. He can be forceful and demanding without being a jerk. He has very strong people skills.
(In comparison, Alex Smith believes the best way to lead is to take care of his business on the field. If he has something to say to a teammate, he’s going to be very discreet. He said it is important for him to be who he is and not be a phony. Click here for more of Smith’s feelings about leadership.)
Gore is not as verbal, but he does have some strong innate leadership skills. When something needs to be said, Gore is not shy about getting up in front of his teammates to say it. There is no doubt the game of football is very important to Gore.
Left tackle Joe Staley is showing more and more signs of becoming a leader, too. And he’ll be expected to grow into more of a leadership role now that he’s signed through the next millennium.
Receiver Isaac Bruce is a reluctant leader. He takes his job very seriously, for sure. But he is a loner. I’m not sure I can envision him standing up and saying what’s on his mind. Bruce does not pal around with the younger receivers. Heck, there are a lot of times he doesn’t even stand next to them on the practice field. But if the youngsters pay attention to how he runs routes, and they pick their spots to ask him questions, I’m sure he has a lot of knowledge to share. In that context, Bruce is a leader.
There are a lot of different kinds of 49ers leaders who, potentially, can add something.
But the way the 49ers are built right now, the most important leader is – without question – the head coach.
Mike Singletary might not be a player. But with the credibility he has within the locker room, he can wield more power among the players than any other coach in the league.
* * *