Last week I attended an event in downtown Washington, DC called “SU Sports Night.” As I have mentioned here previously, I attended Syracuse University before moving down to Maryland to attend Georgetown Law Center. While at Syracuse, I wrote sports for the student newspaper for two years and worked as an assistant to the Sports Information Director for two years. As you might expect, I am a huge Syracuse sports fan.

For this “SU Sports Night,” the university brought down the Athletic Director, the men’s and women’s basketball coaches, the men’s and women’s lacrosse coaches, and the football coach. Each coach mingled with the 150 alumni and fans before sitting down for short talks and Q and A sessions.

During the mingling portion of the evening, I strived to meet and talk with each one of the coaches. I was able to converse with all of them except Kayla Treanor, the women’s lacrosse coach. My goal was not to discuss the x’s and o’s of their particular sports. Rather, I was hoping to engage them about the subject about which I am most passionate – leadership. To a large extent, I succeeded.

Coach Felisha Legette-Jack, the women’s basketball coach, told me that she relishes coaching young women in a sport that she loves. She admitted, however, that she is more passionate about working with them on the “ripple effect.” I asked what she meant.

She said that “I want to create ripples here at Syracuse that spread out into all areas of these young women’s lives. I want them to learn leadership skills that will allow them to become leaders in their own right, not just here at Syracuse, bur for decades after they have graduated.”

Coach Jack’s comments reminded me of one of my earliest leadership newsletter posts from four years ago. It was titled “The Job of a Leader is to Develop Other Leaders.” I explained that sentiment to her, and she replied with one word, “Exactly!”

When we parted, I went to shake Coach Jack’s hand. She turned it down and said, “Can I give you a hug?” As we parted, she said to me that leadership in sports is about so much more than what transpires on the court or the field. It is about developing people to reach their potential, empowering them to reach beyond their self-imposed limitations and envisioning a role where they can positively affect the other players on their team. I smiled and said “That’s leadership in any organization, isn’t it?”

Next I spoke with football coach Fran Brown. He is new to Syracuse, having spent the last two years at the University of Georgia. Coach Brown spoke with me about his number one goal off the football field, creating a positive and aspirational culture that permeates the team, one that his players will feel and live up to in the classroom, in their study sessions, in the cafeteria, in the weight room, and in their dorms.

He said “My job is to help mold these young men into outstanding human beings. It’s not just about the kind of football players they are, it’s actually more about the kind of people they are. Are they honest, are they kind, are they thoughtful, are they conscientious, are they passionate about what they do. Are they always wanting to learn?”

I asked Coach Brown how he plans to impact these student-athletes’ lives so significantly when he and his staff will only be spending several hours a day with them. He said “It’s all about creating a culture that includes high expectations for how they behave when they are with us and when they are not with us. We want to pay attention to their physical, mental, social and spiritual needs.”

When I met with men’s basketball coach Adrian Autry, we spoke about his desire to hold his players accountable every day, to point out their errors quickly and specifically, and to ask them how they planned to correct their mistakes in the future. He told me that a leader always needs to focus on the big picture, keeping a broad perspective on what the leader is striving to accomplish, as well as on the smaller perspective of what is transpiring right now.

Autry emphasized to me that it is critical for a leader to set clear expectations up front, whether it is at the start of a basketball season or the start of an important project. Too many leaders, he told me, assume that their people know what is expected and know how to accomplish the goal. He said it is important to spell out expectations up front and make sure that everyone on the team integrates those expectations into their actions.

Autry’s words reminded me of the old acronym from Stephen Covey’s Habit #2: “Begin with the End in Mind.” Covey said that leaders needed to remember “DR GRAC.” They must spell out these items:

-Desired Results (What’s the goal?)

-Guidelines (What I have to work with re. people, technology, budget, equipment)

-Accountability (How will I be held accountable?)

-Consequences (What will happen if I succeed or if I fail?)

We never know where we will pick up lessons on leadership.

It helps to keep our eyes and ears open.

I gained some valuable nuggets at my alma mater’s Sports Night. Where will you find your next pearls of wisdom about leadership?

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