The Communicating Leader
“Communication is one of the most important skills you require for a successful life.” -Catherine Pulsifer
The greatest leaders, the ones who achieve the most, the ones who inspire the most people, are those who communicate clearly, powerfully and effectively.
Consider great leaders throughout history: Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela. What do they all have in common? The ability to communicate their vision with passion, zeal, clarity and force. They all were able to inspire people to become bigger and better versions of themselves.
The greatest athletics administrators work exceptionally hard to ensure that all their communications are clear, concise, effective and highly motivating.
Consider the classic speech, The Gettysburg Address, by Abraham Lincoln. It is only 272 words long and it took just a few minutes to delivert. And yet, because he took a significant amount of time to shape and clarify it, it was one of the most powerful speeches ever given. Even to this day, it is highly emotional and motivating.
“Writing, the art of communicating thoughts to the mind through the eye, is the great invention of the Word.” - Abraham Lincoln
How can you ensure that your communications are both clear and powerful? Consider using the 7 “Cs”of communication:
- Clear. Every aspect of your communications must be clear, both to you and to your audience.
- Complete. Your communications should include as much relevant information as possible, so the listener can get a complete picture.
- Concise. Your sentences, paragraphs and main points should all be appropriately concise.
- Concrete. Use concrete language rather than abstract.
- Courteous. Your communications should be courteous to your audience, considering both their feelings and viewpoints.
- Correct. Each statement in your communications should be correct.
- Considerate. Your communications are considerate of how the audience thinks and thus presents information in ways that are relevant and helpful.
The greatest leaders take the necessary time to craft their communications so that they are as powerful and impactful as possible. They don’t rush things because they realize that few things are more powerful than their words.
The Center For Creative Leadership puts it this way:
“Communication is a core leadership function. Effective communication and effective leadership are closely intertwined. Leaders need to be skilled communicators in countless relationships at the organizational level, in communities and groups, and sometimes on a global scale. You need to think with clarity, express ideas, and share information with a multitude of audiences.”
If you want to be a great athletic leader, work hard to strengthen your communication skills. Without the ability to communicate clearly, you simply can’t move people from Journey to Destination. You won’t be able to paint a vivid picture of your vision or inspire others to take great action.
Why is communication important between athletics directors and coaches?
Communication is essential for effective teams and creates efficiencies by motivating coaches, encouraging open dialogues and fostering an environment of collaborative problem-solving. It's not always easy to engage with your coaching staff, but the rewards are well worth it.
Communication enables athletics directors to share what they believe and what they expect from others. ... Good communication skills within your department helps to develop better understanding and beliefs among student-athletes and coaches to inspire them to follow the principles and values which you as their athletic leader wants to instill in them.
Advice from the AD DNA Pool
The best ADs have the trait of being selfless leaders. They don't look to bring attention to themselves or to receive credit. As AD's, we always want to inspire so others can aspire. The work that we do is behind the scenes to put coaches and students in positions to be successful.
We are all about others' inspired service. There is no more honorable profession than that of an athletic administrator. I like to compare our jobs to that of a point guard on a basketball team. A great point guard makes the team go. A great point guard makes others better and sets up others to be on the successful end of a play. Oftentimes the efforts of the point guard are taken for granted. The work that we do can be taken for granted and often unnoticed to the majority. I firmly believe that the position of athletic director is the least understood position in most school districts.
The people who stay in the position and excel in the position do it because of a selfless mindset. For me, there is great satisfaction in doing behind the scenes work that hopefully has lasting impact and influence on others being successful and having an impact on their future path. Richard Barton C.M.A.A. Athletic Director Richfield High School, UIAAA Certification Coordinator & NIAAA Liaison
Listener - “Conversing with the intent to listen and not to respond. Look to gain knowledge from what another person is trying to say. Listen now, break down the conversation later.” Nathan King, Williamsburg Athletics Director
Mediator - “The mediator listens to those parties on either side of an issue and asks questions to understand why each party feels the way they do. The mediator works to honor the needs/wants of those involved, while working to bring the parties towards the middle to find a solution. The mediator understands the solution or compromise may not be perfect for each side, but tries to find the best path forward without compromising their own values or the values of the organization.” Zach Clark, Central Decatur Athletics Director
Communicator - “It’s not about being spontaneous. It’s gaining confidence in your decision by looking at the situation, anticipating challenges, getting feedback and then making the decision or change. Then committing to that decision or change, being all in!” Zac Sinram, Indian Hills MS Athletics Director
Networking - “As a young AD, networking with conference ADs was monumental in day to day duties. As time passed and involvement in the IHSADA and the NIAAA increased, networks exploded to the realm of what educational activities can mean to the success of student athletes in today’s world. To young ADs, get involved early and often. You will be better because of it.” David Huff, Retired Nodaway Valley Athletics Director
Networking - “One of the most important things that we can do in education and our professional venture. Get to know those around you – get to develop friendships and relationships within your community – and learn from one another. Perhaps most importantly, don’t ignore the relationship opportunities that are right in front of you in the present. I can think of countless times that someone that might have been seen as a tangential or casual acquaintance developed into an amazing partner in networking and development, either personally or professionally. Thank those around you who do invest their time into you and do all that you can to return the favor by your own demonstrated work in return.” Dr. John Krogstrand, Director of Athletics, Omaha Public Schools
Collaborate - “You cannot do this job alone. You will need to work with others both inside your building and outside. Be willing to work with others. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. The ability to work together with other AD’s, coaches, administrators or boosters will be critical to your success. Build bridges. Make connections. You never know when someone will need your help, or when you will need help from others. By collaboration on common projects, you can set the stage for future cooperation when you may need help.” Sean Blumette, CAA, RMSAA, CIC, Athletics Director, Brooke County Schools
Effective communication is one of the keys to success as an athletic director and when you're good at it, people notice. Most people think that strengthening communication skills involves developing persuasive speech and conversational skills, but what you may not realize is just how important effective listening can be.
Without an effective listener, none of your conversational skills would matter. This is because your points - no matter how clear, still wouldn't be heard or understood.
Remember that listening is a full 50 percent of the communication effort so it's worth your time to develop this important skill.
Here are some techniques you can use to build your listening skills:
Fight the urge to speak. Sometimes when you're engaged in a heated conversation, you start to concentrate on what you're going to say next. You may even be tempted to open your mouth before the other person is finished. Make the extra effort to keep your lips sealed until they're through talking.
- While they're speaking, don't worry about what you're going to say or how you're going to say it. Instead, focus on the words and body language of the other person.
Engage. Your nonverbal communication skills are important while you're listening. If you're looking disinterested and uncaring, the person trying to communicate with you will likely pick up on these subtle hints. They may be flustered or less likely to share their thoughts. Makes sense, right?
- Engage with the person talking. Make eye contact and nod your head and smile. Let them know that their points are coming across to you.
Restate and Highlight. One way to tell people that they're effectively communicating is to simply restate their points. You can repeat key phrases in an affirming tone. You can even give them a quick summary of what they just said in your own words.
- Avoid sharing your opinions when repeating their concepts or ideas. At this point, you simply want to communicate that you've completely understood their meaning.
Ask Questions. Don't be afraid to ask people to elaborate on what they're saying. If you need further information, then ask for it. The important thing is that you understand what they're trying to get across.
Be Patient. It's also important to maintain patience, especially when working with people who may be shy or may not have the ability to communicate very well. If you're not patient, you may end the conversation prematurely or scare off those you are meeting with.
Follow the Flow. Being an effective listener doesn't mean that your only goal is to listen. You can certainly add to the conversation, too. At the same time, you don't want to overpower the conversation. Add your input when they ask for it or when they've finished their point.
Take Note. After you've had an important conversation, ask yourself what you remember from the conversation. Write down the details if necessary. Did you allow the other person to do most of the talking?
When you fight the urge to dominate conversations, you'll be able to truly hear what people have to say!
Great Athletic Directors Listen…..
About Scott Garvis
Scott Garvis has been a leader and innovator in intercollegiate and interscholastic athletics development and fundraising for more than 25 years – as an athletics director, coach, association board member, adviser and editorial contributor.
Scott has a record of excellence as Athletics Director, Director of Activities and Assistant Principal, having led the athletics departments at six high schools or school districts in three states. He has achieved unparalleled success at all levels of high school athletics: large public school districts, a small public high school, a private school, and with state and national athletics administrator associations.