The Emotionally Intelligent Leader
No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. -Theodore Roosevelt
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage both your own emotions and the emotions of those around you. It’s the ability to understand why you’re feeling a certain way in a situation, and to understand how and why others might be feeling.
There will be many times when you find yourself in difficult, stressful and emotionally stressful situations.
In those moments, it’s essential that you be able to understand why you’re feeling a particular way and then respond appropriately. If you simply fly off the handle and explode emotionally, you’ll lose the respect and trust of those you lead. As an AD, you must be able to manage your emotions appropriately and handle emotionally difficult situations.
In the same way, you must also be able to understand why others are feeling specific emotions. This skill, often called Emotional IQ, allows you to see things through the eyes of others. It enables you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and experience the same emotions they are.
If you’re unable to understand the emotions of others, you won’t be able to effectively navigate highly emotional situations. You’ll make decisions without considering the feelings of others, which can cause significant damage to your relationships.
The best athletic leaders are able to keep a close handle on their own emotions and to help others manage their own volatile emotions.
Why is emotional intelligence important for leaders?
Athletics directors who possess strong emotional intelligence have the potential to build stronger relationships and assemble more effective teams. ...
An emotionally intelligent leader is an individual who can relate to colleagues, motivate teams and individuals, skillfully resolve conflict and inspire others to take positive action.
Emotionally intelligent leaders are aware of their own emotions, and intuitively aware of the emotions of others. They are not only willing to listen to the concerns of others, but can decipher, even in silence, the emotions expressed through facial expressions or body language.
Dissatisfaction and discouragement are not caused by the absence of possessions but the absence of vision. – Anonymous
Advice from the DNA AD Pool
Flexibility - “Flexibility can be key in not burning out in an AD role. Not every event will run smoothly, buses will be late, school will get canceled, and players will do silly things. Understand that very little goes according to schedule (no matter how much planning goes into it) and changes WILL happen. Learn to accept these as inevitable and learn to plan ahead with available options. Showing flexibility will save a lot of frustration and headaches down the road.” Sean Blumette, CAA, RMSAA, CIC, Athletics Director, Brooke County Schools
Tactful - “Sir Isaac Newton said ,‘Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.’ You must be able to communicate with all of your stakeholders, whether they are coaches, players, parents or other school personnel openly and honestly, but do so in a way that reflects the professional nature of what we do. Difficult conversations will have to happen, and doing so tactfully will allow you to communicate what is needed and still move forward in a positive direction.” Sean Blumette, CAA, RMSAA, CIC, Athletics Director, Brooke County Schools
Knowledgeable - “Never stop learning. No matter what your background, you must continue to learn in areas that you may not be familiar with. The only way to effectively do this job is to become familiar with ALL aspects and ALL sports that you are responsible for. Find a way to keep learning and increase your knowledge in areas that you need. Knowledge can be gained by reading, getting a certification, or on the job training, but it can never stop.” Sean Blumette, CAA, RMSAA, CIC, Athletics Director, Brooke County Schools
Personable - “As an athletic administrator, one of the keys to success is visibility and approachability. People are going to know who you are and want to talk. Be friendly. Shake hands, kiss babies, say hi to the parents, etc... I have developed some very good, lasting relationships, just because I was willing to spend 5 minutes talking with someone at an event. These initial meetings can have a lasting impression on someone. They can also open doors of opportunity for your programs, as well as opportunities for yourself. You are an ambassador of your school and program. Give people a good impression” Sean Blumette, CAA, RMSAA, CIC, Athletics Director, Brooke County Schools
5 Strategies for Athletics Administrators
- Surround yourself with positive people - The company you keep has a big impact on your attitude.
- Be cognizant of the good things in your life - If I have a bad day at work. It doesn't matter when I get home because I am grateful that I get to spend time with the ones I love.
- Golden Rule - Treat others how you want to be treated.
- Have things to look forward to after work - As ADs we are always going Mach 3 with our hair on fire but we need to find something we love to do outside of work hours to make sure we have that work/life balance.
- It is not about you and it is not about me. It is about the kids.
Blake Cruikshank, Southeast Warren Athletics Director
Genius - “A true genius AD is one who is wise enough to know his or her weak points and finds people with those strengths to learn from. Another trait of a genius AD is the willingness to share his or her strengths with those who are weak in those areas so they can learn. The common theme is, genius ADs are constantly learning and sharing. Without those 2 qualities, your brilliance is undiscovered and untapped.” Carl Semler, Lubbock High School Athletics Director
Servant Leader - “Servant Leadership is the heart of what we do, and should guide practically all decisions we make. Not considering who is impacted and how they are impacted by our decisions is the essence of bad leadership. I would rather work for an AD that I know cares about me and is here to help me, than one who wants to use me to serve his or her own purposes.” Carl Semler, Lubbock High School Athletics Director
“As much as 80% of adult “success” comes from EQ.” - Daniel Goleman
Resilient - “Being resilient is an important attribute for an Athletic Administrator. The position can include multiple responsibilities, including District Director for Health and Physical Education. This curriculum and instruction piece is a cornerstone to the district instructional program and supports the further development of the interscholastic athletic program. Having a strong health and physical education program will add to the student-athlete developing a greater interest in excelling at the next level. Interscholastic Athletics can be viewed as the Advanced Placement (AP) of health and physical education. As an Athletic Administrator, you are faced with daily challenges that require advanced education, professional development and experience in supervising an athletic program. A formative skill set in human relations is paramount when managing the various personalities and whims of administrators, teachers, coaches, student-athletes, parents and community advocates. Having a developed mind set will enable the athletic administrator to carefully craft a response to the usual demands and withstand the typical pressures of the position. The psychological, intellectual, emotional and social components of the position require an adroit management style.” Charles J. Gonsalves C.M.A.A., Retired Athletics Director
Interpersonal Relationships - "Over all of the years of worrying about the big details and focusing on the material things of being an AD, I have found that the most important part of our job is building strong relationships with our coaches and staff. Sometimes what does not seem like a big deal to us, could mean a lot more to the folks we work with." Mike Linde Assistant Athletics Director, VanMeter High School
Personable - “Approachable for all people. Sometimes this means we are a sounding board, sometimes it is fielding complaints, sometimes it involves providing a smile and a handshake, sometimes it is recruiting and hiring coaches. People want someone they can talk to, relate to, and approach without fear of backlash or getting blown off.” Dr. Dustin Smith, EdD C.M.A.A., Director of Athletic Operations and Student Activities, Greenwood Public Schools
Flexibility - “A firefighter never knows when he is going to be called out, he/she just has to go when called. Athletic Administrators must be ready for anything that may pop up. It may not be in the books or the classes we took in college. But we must be flexible to adjust to whatever may be thrown at us and still maintain direction and vision. A blip on the day can’t derail the day. It may require our attention, so that is where flexibility comes in.” Dr. Dustin Smith, EdD C.M.A.A., Director of Athletic Operations and Student Activities, Greenwood Public Schools
Developing Emotional Intelligence
As more studies show emotional intelligence improves your productivity and job performance, it becomes a more coveted skill within your athletics department.
Emotional intelligence is when you can understand the emotions of yourself and others and manage your own feelings well. It shows a balance between intelligence and self-awareness.
Emotional intelligence is an asset. Studies have shown that emotional intelligence training improves productivity. That may be because emotional intelligence reflects an ability to make better decisions, problem solving skills and being a great communicator.
Athletics administrators who are emotionally intelligent can come up with solutions with a holistic approach..
“The only way to change someone’s mind is to connect with them from the heart.” - Rasheed Ogunlaru
Emotional intelligence is rated in four categories:
- Self-Management. You are able to think clearly in situations where you feel stressed, anxious, or angry. Self-management indicates being able to separate yourself and how you should act from your emotions.
- Self-Awareness. Self-awareness helps your ability to change negative habits, thoughts or behavior. When you have a high level of self-awareness, you can recognize how your beliefs and emotions affect your thoughts and behavior.
- Social Awareness. Social awareness is your ability to “read the room.” You can understand what others need to feel comfortable, as well as see social dynamics at play. Social awareness indicates how well you pick up on social cues or needs.
- Relationship Management. You manage conflict well, work well with others and develop positive relationships overall. Relational management indicates good interpersonal skills.
Are you interested in improving your emotional awareness so that you can excel as an athletic administrator?
Follow these tips to build emotional intelligence:
Practice self-awareness. Self-awareness reflects your ability to look at yourself objectively. To develop this:
- Practice Self-Reflection in a journal daily.
- Notice when you react to something without reflection.
- External Reflection - Think about feedback you receive.
- Perspective -Practice seeing things from other people’s point of view and not just your own.
Receive criticism with grace. Think before you react to criticism. Use criticism as an opportunity to learn and grow.
See conflict as an opportunity to learn and understand more about others. Conflict can be frustrating but it’s inevitable. Instead of avoiding it, take conflict as an opportunity to understand where another person is coming from.
Learn to “read the room.” How well do you pick up on the feelings of people around you? Do you know who to go to when you need a solution? What “unwritten rules” do people follow at your workplace? Being able to read the room can position you as a superstar or changemaker at your school district.
Listen to others. AD’s with high emotional intelligence are great listeners. Are you doing all the talking, or are you making space to listen as well? Try to listen in meetings and make an effort to ask people what they think.
Speak up and express yourself. In addition to great listening skills, emotionally intelligent people are great at speaking up when it matters. Don’t be afraid to pitch your out-of-the-box ideas or make sure your opinions get heard!
Work to people’s strengths. People work differently and have different strengths. Be flexible to the different types of people who make up your team. Create an environment for each person to thrive and be engaged and innovative.
AD’s with higher emotional intelligence have an easier time managing their stress levels, building better relationships and reading the room.
Managing your own stress levels means you can calmly lead a team through high-stress situations.
- Building better relationships can help keep your coaches engaged and motivated.
- Being able to read the room can help you know the right person to approach when you’re tackling a problem or take action when you notice a coach feeling stressed.
Developing emotional intelligence will benefit you both at work and outside of work. Wouldn’t life be great with effortless stress management, better relationships and being able to “read the room”?
In a study of skills that distinguish star performers in every field from entry-level jobs to executive positions, the single most important factor was not IQ, advanced degrees, or technical experience, it was EQ. Of the competencies required for excellence in performance, 67% were emotional competencies — Daniel Goleman.
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.