The Continual Process of Transformational Leadership

As the start of fall activities nears, it reminds me that summer is quickly coming to a close. It also means that I’ve spent considerable time planning for transformational leadership opportunities for the upcoming school year. While I’ve been teaching and speaking about the principles of common language (specifically goals vs. purpose and transactional vs. transformational coaches) for the past several years, 2017-18 was a breakthrough year at Brainerd High School.

We started in August by identifying our purpose/core values: Grit, Care, Respect, Positivity, Responsibility, and Trustworthiness. As the year went along, we determined the specific ways in which we were teaching and modeling those core values across each of our 31 varsity sports programs and shared best practice. Finally, we determined how we could define success in each of the core values in our Deptartment Purpose and look beyond the won-loss record and the result on the scoreboard!

So, what does my plan look like for transformational leadership in 2018-19? We ask ourselves that all the time, right? “What’s next?” If you are like me, you are always looking for new ideas, strategies and golden nuggets to bring to your students, staff, and parents.

It’s taken me nearly 20 years to figure this out, but my answer to, “What’s next?” is…more of the same! Consider this scenario—John Q. Public stops several of your coaches at the local grocery store and asks, “What is your athletic department all about?” It’s quite certain the answers he would hear would run the gamut from words that support education-based athletics to words that are singularly attached to sport and achievement and make zero mention of developing young people. Either way, all the answers would be DIFFERENT. I wonder how we get that answer to be consistent?

Not long ago, a wise and accomplished 56-year coaching veteran mentioned that we must be “mercilessly redundant” in our messaging. A-ha! I’m still on the lookout to innovate, inspire and educate more effectively, but this is a profoundly simple approach to creating clarity and consistency of purpose for your coaches, kids and school community.

Let’s break this down a little bit to help create perspective.

  • Brainerd High School will have about a 10% turnover in coaches this year. That’s about a dozen coaches in our system. A blessing compared to many schools that turn over a more significant number of coaches each year.
  • We have an entire new crop of 9th-grade student-athletes AND their parents that we are welcoming into our programs. At Brainerd High School, that will be nearly 300 student-athletes and their parents!
  • New leadership in our District for the 2018-2019 school year alone:
    • School board elections in November
    • New assistant principal at the high school
    • New assistant superintendent at the district level

So, what does this mean for me as an activities director? It means that I must continue to help all of our stakeholders understand who we are AND make sure our department is functioning in a manner that is consistent with our purpose or, in other words, our core values. There’s an old marketing adage that says consumers must hear a message seven times before they know, understand, or act upon the message. It is imperative that our department stay focused on our purpose to develop the inner lives of the student-athletes we serve. It’s a common flaw in the American education system as a whole— too often our curriculum is an inch deep and a mile wide. Rather than branch out with new initiatives and activities, we must take a deep dive into our greater purpose.

Some strategies that I intend to employ for 2018-19 (and beyond!) include:

    • I will start each coaches meeting by reviewing our core values—see the image below.
      At the start of each meeting, I may ask coaches to share examples of instances where they have witnessed their student-athletes exemplifying these character traits. Or, I may ask for a coach to share an opportunity they used to teach these character traits to their student-athletes. Obviously, a lion’s share of the coaches will not have an opportunity to share in this setting, but they will be reminded of our purpose and learn how their colleagues are intentionally teaching character through their sports.
  • This year I will continue to provide professional development for our coaches by having monthly meetings that focus on best practices and practical strategies for 1.) communicating our purpose to parents and athletes, and 2.) teaching and modeling our core values to the student-athletes in our stead. We have an incredible amount of knowledge and expertise within our coaching ranks. We stand to grow leaps and bounds by the experts that are already in the room!
  • My pre-season Parent-Athlete-Coach (PAC) meetings will be (to me) painfully similar to previous messages. However, I will share my leadership purpose statement, our coaches transformational purpose statements, and our department-wide purpose—AGAIN! Many will have heard this for a 2nd, 3rd, or even a 4th time. Is that a bad thing? Mercilessly redundant!
  • Each year I’m tasked with presenting an activities department update to our Board of Education. Rather than focus on participation numbers and team accomplishments, I will spend significant time educating the board about our purpose and the work we’ve been done to professionally develop our coaches.
  • I will pick one of the core values of our Department purpose and craft a “keynote” message for our annual All-Sports Banquet. I will use this opportunity to a create broader awareness of how we develop these character traits in our student-athletes. This banquet generally has over 700 people in attendance and is a great opportunity to share how we are different than other youth sport programs our kids and families experience today.

As you continue the InSideOut journey in your school community, be mindful that the work you are doing at the present is, in fact, “What’s next?”