The Accountable Leader
If you want to be a highly effective athletics administrator, you must hold yourself accountable for both your actions and the outcomes that those actions produce.
When things go well, you take appropriate credit (and give credit to your coaches, of course). When things don’t go well, you take the blame. You’re the leader of the team and, therefore, everything ultimately falls on you.
The “victim” leader. The victim leader blames everyone and everything else for their failures. They refuse to believe that their actions could result in any problems and so they constantly blame their challenges on others. They may take credit for successes, but they don’t accept the blame for failure.
If you’re going to be a powerful, compelling athletics leader, you must accept 100% responsibility for the outcomes of your actions. You must take decisive action to influence specific outcomes and then embrace those outcomes, whatever they may be.
Best selling author Deep Patel puts it this way:
“Effective leaders hold themselves accountable and take responsibility for their own mistakes—and they expect others to do the same. They can work within established procedures, and be productive and efficient in their decisions.”
If you don’t hold yourself accountable as a leader, how can you expect to hold your coaches, parents, and student-athletes accountable? If you aren’t willing to set a high standard for yourself, how can you set a high bar for those on your team?
The reality is that your coaches, student-athletes and parents will never rise higher than you. They will look to you and follow your example. If they see you constantly blaming others and refusing to be accountable, they’ll do the same thing.
Work hard to hold yourself accountable and your team will do the same.
Why is accountability important in being a leader?
High levels of accountability, especially among athletic leaders, builds trust within teams. If coaches know their athletics director will take responsibility for their decisions instills a high level of confidence in you as an athletic leader..
“Leaders inspire accountability through their ability to accept responsibility before they place blame.” - Courtney Lynch
Being an accountable leader means that you have the resolve to own up to commitments and promises that you have made. It means being answerable to the actions and decisions you’ve made and by those you lead. It means having both the vision of a leader, and the resourcefulness to execute it. Being an accountable athletic leader is no easy task. You have the opportunity to have a great impact on all those around you!
Accountable - “My dad, who was a small college instructor, coach and athletic director always told me: ‘If you make a mistake, admit it as soon as you can, apologize, and make it right immediately.’ He also told me the most important people in the school were the secretaries, cooks, and custodians - treat them like royalty. Those two things I have practiced diligently over my career and it has never been a bad outcome!” Bill Fitzgerald, Nebraska Athletic Association Executive Director
Committed - :Commitment, much like loyalty, seems to be a challenging find today. In order to be the change that we want to see in the world, we must be that change. What are we doing to show commitment to our schools? Our programs? Our athletes? Our communities? Our spouses? Our own kids and families? Be all-in. Be present. Be willing to show that you care and you’re ready to do the work.” Dr. John Krogstrand, Director of Athletics, Omaha Public Schools
Advice from the DNA AD Pool
Problem Solver - “As an Educational Leader and specifically an AD, you are challenged every day to be a problem solver and sometimes multiple times an hour, constantly fixing and correcting small issues and some very pressing and challenging situations.
Quick decisions (answer needs to happen that day) - First, be calm, think of all the effects any decision might have on all parties. Be consistent, past practices will help you make good decisions. Think of what is best for the student. Be character-driven, always remembering your educational goals and the mission of the department. Because it's a right-now call, do what's best, make the call and move on - you don't always have to be right.
Longer/more time to evaluate problem solving - Research, what is the opportunity to learn from the challenge ahead of you, ability to grow and or teach a student or move your community to a better place because of the problem. Be an effective communicator, give all parties dignity no matter what you decide. Don't pass the problem along to others, solve it and move on, be a leader.” Brad Rose, West Des Moines Valley Athletics Director
Investigator - “In the role of an administrator, you oftentimes are looking for information and solutions, which in a sense makes you an investigator. To me, an investigator is looking for information, and taking that information to try to find solutions to possible issues, or to find best practices. Good investigators are good listeners who seek information from many sources and validate that information based upon the sources and their interests for the desired solutions. In the theme of an AD having the DNA of an investigator is someone who knows whom to seek out to find the best information possible to help them with the AD and with the issues they are facing in their job or school.” Derek Fink, Denison Athletics Director
Intentional – “Always have a reason for doing what you do. Know why you need to do these things. As an AD, everything must be done for a reason. It is impossible to ‘wing it’ and expect to be successful. Sure, we may get lucky from time to time if we are not intentional with our plans and actions, but to be successful, we need to sustain that over time. By being intentional with our plans and actions, we are setting ourselves up to be more successful.” Sean Blumette, CAA, RMSAA, CIC Athletics Director, Brooke County Schools
Role Model - “Always remember that you are looked up to. Even in your first year, just due to your position, you will have coaches and athletes that look up to you. As you progress in your career, this becomes more and more important. We always speak to our coaches and athletes about representing the school or the team with dignity, class and respect. Make certain that we, as the head of the program, are doing the same. Our jobs are difficult enough to do without having people call our character into question. Don’t give them a reason to. There is always someone watching what you do and how you carry yourself on and off campus.” Sean Blumette, C.A.A., RMSAA, CIC, Athletics Director, Brooke County Schools
Professional - “To me, the word 'Professional' as an AD means that I am going to be constantly striving to take care of all of the details, large and small, that will help our students and coaches have great experiences in our programs. I will be seeking ways to grow myself in my leadership skills, and I will be seeking ways to help our coaches continue to improve their programs. I want to also utilize and model for others a 'professional' mindset in all of the tasks that I undertake. No matter how large or small the task is, I want to make sure that I am giving it the attention that will allow me to complete it at a high level.” Tom Ulses, Athletic Director, Muscatine
Responsible - “Taking Responsibility for your program when things don't work out is a key step in the growth of an AD. It took me longer than it should have to develop this trait as a coach - I think I did better as an AD. I know this passage certainly applies to my path ..’I was toxic to some, I was a blessing to others. Some I healed, others I hurt. I'm willing to admit that I wasn't always right, and that I am striving to be better!’
Grateful - Too often it's easy to look at another school and get hung up on what they have (and what you might not have!) rather than being Grateful for what you have! Whether it's kids, coaches, facilities or other resources ... be Grateful for what you have and Nurture the flowers in your own garden! I love the quote, ‘When the dust settles, we'll realize how little we need, how very much we actually have, and the true value of human connection!’ Strive to improve what you can, but don't focus on what you don't have - instead have an Attitude of Gratitude! You will see it have a positive impact on everything and everyone on your team! Loyal - I always think of the lines from Shakespeare's King Henry V... ‘We few, We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers - for he who stays and sheds his blood with me today, shall be my Brother!’ I shared that passage with all of my teams and later with our coaches to help illustrate that we were all on the same team - we were Brothers!” Jake Von Scherrer C.M.A.A., Educational AD Podcast Host
The Accountable Leader - Developing Trust…
As an athletics administrator it is important to be cognizant of the responsibility and commitment that comes with being a athletics director. But sometimes it’s difficult to live up to the expectations of others, and the reality is that sometimes you’ll make mistakes, and it’s ok to make mistakes. It’s how you respond when you do make mistakes that sets you apart as an athletics administrator.
As an athletic leader, your mistakes can result in losing the trust of your team. If you use the right strategies to fix your mistakes, recovering from your leadership mistakes becomes much easier.
Consider these leadership mistakes and how to fix them:
1. Arrogance-Ignoring the advice of others. It’s true that you were appointed to your athletic leadership position by displaying admirable traits. Do not forget about those that helped you along the way. It’s important to value the opinions and ideas of those who supported you when you have the opportunity to lead.
- Ask for new ideas and ways to improve. As a leader, showing continued belief in the team makes it easier to gain and keep their trust.
- Even if an idea isn’t feasible, thank your coaches, boosters and students for their input. Remind them that one idea ignites the fire.
2. The Bus Keeps Moving-Feeling indispensable. Now that you’ve been designated as your school’s athletic leader, it’s easy to start feeling indispensable. However, avoid getting into that mode as much as possible. Remember, you weren’t the first and you certainly won’t be the last person in your position.
- Remember how you got there in the first place.
- Pay attention to the details and love those you lead.
- What’s required for you to thrive as an athletics director?
3. Communication is Key-Lack of communication. Keeping the lines of communication open and encouraging open communication are the best ways to lead effectively. All persons on your team need to hear from you.
- Regardless of whether the feedback is positive or negative, keep your team members engaged and informed.
- Schedule regular meetings with your coaches, students, parents and administration. Avoid having meetings only when there’s an issue at hand. Team members like to feel connected with what’s going on.
- Foster an environment where your team members feel comfortable approaching you. Allow them to feel like you want to hear from them.
4. Pour Greatness in those you Serve & Lead - Sidestepping recognition. Remember that your team is as strong as its weakest link. It’s extremely important to recognize the input of each team member. This is the best way to ensure commitment and dedication to you as their athletic leader.
- Yes, you enjoy the recognition garnered from leading a successful athletics program. But it’s absolutely important to share that recognition with your students, coaches and school community.
- Provide individual recognition to coaches, students and volunteers for a job well done.
- Use contests and events to recognize the contributions of excellence within your programs. This allows them to feel worthwhile and gain the respect of their school community.
“With true greatness comes a willingness to sacrifice for others.” - Chuck Swindoll
5. Leadership is Tough-Ignoring difficult responsibilities. Being an athletics administrator isn’t always going to be unicorns, sunshine and rainbows. There are difficulties that you may have to face from time to time. The worst thing you can do is shy away from the tough decisions and responsibilities. Put on a brave face and show why you were chosen to lead.
- Do you need to reprimand someone? Avoid putting it off. Get right to it and remind the person of your expectations.
- You were put in that leadership role for a reason. Always keep that reason at the forefront of your mind. Live up to the expectations of others and do what’s right.
If this is your first leadership role, you’ll realize it’s a work in progress. No two days are the same. And each experience requires a different approach. Avoid these leadership mistakes and adhere to the strategies to overcome failure. That way, you can adequately equip yourself to lead successfully.
“Again and again, the impossible problem is solved when we see that the problem is only a tough decision waiting to be made.” - Robert H. Schuller
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.