Bound™ Exclusive: The DNA of an AD (Chapter 6)

Putting your integrity on display will ensure your coaches, students, administration and parents buy into your vision. They’ll see that what you say and what you do are aligned and that your morals are guiding your actions.

Bound™ Exclusive: The DNA of an AD (Chapter 6)

The Leader with Integrity

“In every aspect of life, have a game plan, and then do your best to achieve it.” —Alan Kulwicki

Integrity means always being consistent with your values. It means saying what you’ll do and doing what you’ll say. It means you have strong moral values and that you hold fast to those moral values in every situation.

If you don’t have integrity, your coaches, students, administration and parents will quickly abandon you. They’ll see that what you say is different from what you do. That you don’t have any particular morals guiding your actions. That the ends always justify the means.

Steven Covey said, “Moral authority comes from following universal and timeless principles like honesty, integrity, and treating people with respect.”

Do you want to have a sense of authority with those on your coaching staff? Do you want them to respect you? Do you want them to do what you ask without grumbling and arguing? Then be a person of integrity.

As an athletic director there will be times when you’re faced with ethical dilemmas. In those moments, you have two options:

  • Act with integrity and gain the respect of those you lead.
  • Act without integrity and lose the trust of your school community.

Without integrity, those you lead simply won’t trust you. They won’t have confidence that you’ll do what you say. They won’t be confident that you have their best interests in mind.

Rather, they’ll worry that you’re asking them to do something for selfish, personal reasons rather than their own good and the good of the athletic department..

Trustworthy - “Administrators can be tasked with many different responsibilities, but being trustworthy is extremely important when making tough decisions.  At the end of the day, I have to be able to lay my head on a pillow and know that I have done my best to represent our student-athletes & community with character.  Trustworthiness is the ability to remain level-headed and honorable to our fine profession.” Curt Johnson, Eddyville-Blakesburg Athletics Director

Why is integrity important as a leader?

Athletic administrators who demonstrate integrity garner trust among their coaches. They aren't afraid of the truth, and they stand up for what they believe in. This, in turn, leads to loyalty, increased success and a better experience for student-athletes, parents and coaches.

Integrity in leaders refers to being honest, trustworthy and reliable. Athletic Directors  with integrity act in accordance with their words (they practice what they preach) and own up to their mistakes, as opposed to hiding them, blaming others or making excuses.

Advice from the DNA AD Pool 

Transparent - “A vitally important part of the DNA of being an effective Athletics Director is being an authentic and transparent communicator!  Ultimately it’s the AD’s job at finding the ‘tie that binds’ your stakeholders.  Whether you’re assisting student athletes with eligibility concerns, dealing with the challenging personality of a parent or even the evaluation of a coach, the ability to discover common ground in an authentic and transparent fashion is of utmost importance and will aid in creating and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with all stakeholders of your athletic program”. - David J. Kelley Ph.D. , CAA ; University of Cincinnati

“The keys to success are trust, transparency, authenticity, and accountability.” - Unknown

Ethical - “To me, ethical behavior varies for everyone based on beliefs and personal circumstance.  However, true Ethical behavior cannot exist without having Empathy. As a school administrator, I must truly try to understand all perspectives  in order to act ethically in making a decision.”  Mark Hulshof, Sioux Center Athletics Director

Ethical - “Being ethical is doing the right thing at all times.  With the revolving door of situations that come across the athletic director’s desk on a regular basis, they make decisions that impact the school and community each day.  We must be objective in our decisions and not let emotions dictate how we lead our schools and athletic departments.  In my opinion, the top priority of an athletic director should be to provide their student-athletes with a memorable experience while putting them in a position to be successful.”  Chris Koch, Sioux City North Athletics Director

Ethical - “Ethics to me is simply striving to do what is right and showing that with our actions. As athletic administrators we ask our students to represent themselves, their team/school and community in the best possible way. For that to hold true, our coaches need to model those actions. Administrators need to model that behavior and have that expectation from coaches. There is no quick or easy avenue  to success.  We should not do things that would be questionable or that lack integrity. As a school we can’t just talk about having an ethical department, we have to lead by example.” Phil Chia, Des Moines Lincoln Athletics Director

Honest - “I am honest and transparent in all of my interactions with people. I find that this can leave me vulnerable at times, but through that vulnerability I have been able to evaluate my leadership and improve my connection to the stakeholders in the program I serve.” David Horner, ICS School Zurich Athletics Director

Role Model – “This is a key component in my opinion. Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk. I try to be a role model for our community in how I present myself but also how I take care of myself mentally and physically.”  Jeffrey Koops C.M.A.A., Director of Athletics, International School of Ulaanbaatar

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

It doesn't come easy…

Being honest and having strong moral principles isn’t always easy in the athletic landscape. However, your life as an athletic director is easier when you live with integrity. Others can trust you, and that trust is essential in your role as an athletic leader, even if it doesn’t come easy. Acting with integrity is harder in the short-term, but invaluable in leaving a lasting legacy. Your role in athletics steadily gets easier when you act with integrity.

Living with honesty and integrity:

Work on your personal growth. Developing yourself is an effective way to strengthen your integrity. When you grow as an athletic administrator, you become more comfortable with yourself and feel less need to be inauthentic.

Be reliable. Be on time, avoid canceling appointments and do what you say you’re going to do. If you say that you’ll deliver your project  by noon on Friday, ensure that it’s done on time. It’s easy to be reliable if you truly care about those you lead. Make promises you know you can keep and you’ll never disappoint anyone.

Be honest with yourself. Before you do or say something, question why you’re doing it. What is your real purpose? Are you being self-serving at the expense of others, or are your motives more honorable? Self-awareness is a primary component of integrity.

Be gentle, but be honest. Do your coaches, students, and parents believe that you’re an honest person? Do you bend the truth to be comfortable or to pretend that you’re something you’re not? However, honesty isn’t a license to tell a coach that they are a terrible tactician of their sport or that their practices are unproductive.

Live by your core values each day. If you’re unaware of your values, now would be a great time to figure them out and list them. Knowing your core values makes it easier to make decisions. It also makes you more predictable, which makes others more comfortable. Know your core values and live them each day.

It’s OK to say NO. This is maybe one of the toughest lesions I had to learn as an AD. When you say yes to things you don’t want to do, you’re not demonstrating integrity. You don’t have to take part in every opportunity that’s presented to you. Valuing your time is smart. Be honest and say NO when you need to.

Be confident. Confident AD’s are comfortable. Comfortable people are better able to act with integrity. A lack of integrity is often a response to discomfort. You’re not comfortable meeting your new booster club parents, so you fake a doctor appointment. You lack the confidence to give a parent night speech, so you stay home “sick.”

  • The more uncomfortable you are each day, the more likely your integrity will be challenged. Confidence and self-esteem are the answer. Work on both each day.

Stop doing the things you know you shouldn’t do. Are you stealing pens and post-it notes from work? Stealing your neighbor’s Sunday paper? Not putting a quarter in the kitty at work when you pour yourself a cup of coffee? Stealing napkins from the fast-food restaurant to stock your kitchen? Think about your behavior and adjust accordingly.

Be willing to stand up for something. Most of us have values and opinions, but at times we are not even willing to share them, never mind stand up for them. While others won’t always agree with your stances, they will respect you for having them.

Living with integrity. It appears to be a more challenging way to live on the surface. But living with integrity is easier in the long run. You’ll be more respected and experience more success.

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.