Growth Series: Reflections on Purpose and Leadership

Joe Ehrmann always says, “In order to be a better coach, you need to be a better you.” The same holds true for administrators—constant reflection and intentional personal and professional development are critical for growth—not only for our coaches, programs, and student-athletes but for ourselves, too.

That’s why we’re introducing a new development and growth series—where our AD partners and their colleagues will share how they are focusing their energy inward, reflecting on the values they want to work on the most, and putting goals into action to become the best version of themselves.

First up—Russ Reetz, Athletic Director at Prior Lake High School, and Sandra Setter-Larsen, Athletic Director at Eagan High School, share two books they’ve recently read and how they are applying their takeaways to their personal and professional lives.

Russ Reetz on personal responsibility, finding value and leading with a decided heart

One of my favorite Joe Erhmann quotes to share with my coaches is: “Character can be learned, therefore it can be taught, but it can’t be taught if it is not modeled.” But it’s also helpful in my own personal/professional development as well. If we as leaders adopt a personal growth mindset and model a willingness to grow and change for the better—our coaches will do the same. I’d like to share the lessons from a book I recently read. With a decided heart, I am committed to my own personal growth towards becoming a better husband, father, friend, colleague, and Athletic Director.

I recently read a book titled “Travelers Gift; Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success” by Andy Andrews. In the fictional book, a husband and father who recently lost his job and can’t pay the bills ends up in a car accident. He wakes up from the accident and finds himself on a journey through the past. He learns seven lessons from seven different historical figures. I’d like to share the lessons I learned from the book.

The Buck Stops Here: Taking personal responsibility

As leaders, we are responsible for the decisions of our past, present, and future. As I continue to try to model humility and vulnerability-based leadership, admitting mistakes and taking responsibility for where we’ve been and where we are going is crucial. I’m also forced to think back to all the decisions (good and bad) I made that got me to where I am today. I am responsible for all the success and all the failures of my life just like I am responsible for the success and failures of our programs at PLHS.

Seek Wisdom: Search for understanding and discernment

The second lesson shared in the book is to seek wisdom. With the busy pace of this job and all the conflict we experience, it is difficult for me at times to slow down, stay curious and find value in every person and situation. My purpose statement of love more, serve more and find value fits in well this lesson. A phrase used in this chapter of the book is “Lead with a servants heart.” This was a powerful reminder for me that true leadership is to be demonstrated through the service of others. We can serve with love or with malice—the decision is ours.

Be a Person of Action: Being a courageous leader

This was my favorite chapter and lesson from the book. Good leaders believe in themselves and take risks. I think we often get too wrapped up in the what-ifs and fear of failure which causes inaction. My two favorite quotes from this chapter are: “When faced with doing nothing or something, I will always choose to act” and “Successful people make their decisions quickly and change their minds slowly. Failures make their decisions slowly and change their minds quickly.” I think our subordinates lose trust in us as leaders when we are slow to act and aren’t able to provide a clear and concise roadmap. We’ve all worked for leaders who seem to use ambiguity and inconsistency in decision making. It doesn’t feel good to be led by someone who seems unsure and unwilling to act. The decision itself is what it is, it’s the action demonstrated after the decision that usually determines success or failure.  

Have a Decided Heart: Overcoming double-mindedness

A decided heart has to do with how we make decisions and our actions following that decision. The character sharing this lesson from the book was Christopher Columbus. He felt so strongly in his heart that he’d discover new land that he set out on a journey others thought was crazy. Imagine if the fear of sailing off the edge of the earth kept Columbus from finding America. My core values are love, serve and value. Those values sound great but if I don’t fully believe in them and use them as a lens through which I make all decisions, I am not acting with a decided heart. We will never have all the answers and mistakes will undoubtedly be made along the way, but I have to believe when a decision is made in the best interest of all through the lens of love, service, and value—it can’t be wrong.

Choose Happiness: Possessing a grateful spirit

I have to admit this chapter was the chapter I found to be the hokiest. It is also the chapter I think about most while in the daily grind of my job. Is being happy a choice? I believe we can decide what kind of mood we are in. In this job, good things and bad things will come our way. We choose how we decide to respond. I tell my coaches all the time to control the controllables. The only thing we can really control is our attitude, our preparation, and our effort. I choose to be grateful and express gratitude. I choose to smile often and laugh a lot. I choose to be happy.

Forgive others: The power of grace and mercy

Give grace. I think today’s sports culture struggles with this concept. I know our student-athletes struggle with this concept. Teaching and modeling empathy and grace for others is our biggest challenge. When a mistake is made, can we as caring adults offer grace? Can we acknowledge the mistake with love and guidance and simply set the person back on the right path for success? Can we criticize but not demean? Can we treat everyone first as human beings and not as human doings? Can we ask our parents to give our coaches grace? I believe grace and empathy are crucial components in making room in our current win-at-all-costs sports culture for purpose-based programming.  

Persist: Persevering with faith until the end

The last chapter of the book takes place in a warehouse filled with unfulfilled hopes and dreams. It forces the reader to uncomfortably reflect on dreams and pursuits never realized. I remember a time not so long ago in my life when I was told my job no longer existed. The recession of 2008 claimed my teaching position. A parable titled the “Toist farmer” was shared with me by someone who was working to seek his own wisdom. The theme of the parable is “It is neither good nor bad.” The lesson I learned was I don’t really know what the future holds but only I can create my own opportunities. What seemed like an awful and cruel thing at the time ended up putting me on a path for becoming an Athletic Director. It was the nudge I needed to fulfill a promise I made to myself almost 10 years earlier. Becoming an AD almost became an unfulfilled dream, then adversity happened and here we are. We are required to believe in a future of uncertainty and to somehow see the things we desire most and go after them. As we pursue our hopes and dreams and support others along their journey, adversity often strikes. Our response to adversity matters. We must persist with faith and self-confidence that things will work out in the end.

I challenge myself every day to do two things daily that others in my profession aren’t doing. For me, reading and journaling my reflections have become a habit. I am committed to my own personal growth which allows me to lead, serve and influence others.  

Sandra Setter-Larsen on finding purpose, focusing on relationships and dealing with adversity 

In an effort to become the best version of myself, I read the Viktor Frankl book, “Man’s Search For Meaning.”  Mr. Frankl is able to share so much wisdom in this book. Below are some significant reflection points that I have found useful.  

Finding our purpose is fundamental   

Victor Frankl was in Nazi concentration camps. He lost his family—parents, spouse, and siblings. I have read that after he was released he wrote this book in nine days. He shares his personal experiences of the camps and how he discovered that the search for meaning in life is fundamental to life. Even during the most difficult of times or of suffering, people must search for and can find meaning in their lives. He cited Nietzsche’s words: “He who has a’ why’ to live for can bear with almost any how.” In the book, Frankl speaks of his purpose and how it helped him survive. He also noted that each of our why’s is different. Our life choices and our own decisions will impact our purpose. “No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny.” -Viktor Frankl

My reflection: We will create better and stronger people if we understand our purpose, as this will allow us to focus on growing them to be the best that they can be. If we know our “why,” we are better prepared to help others discover their why! I am a better person and leader since finding my purpose. I lead with more patience, compassion, and love than ever before. I have also found service to others is the most important gift we can give.

Relationships matter and love for others is key to a good life

Frankl also notes in his book that love is the “ultimate and highest goal.” He tells the story of how he would hold onto the image of his wife in his mind, seeing it clearly to carry him through the most difficult times of suffering and pain.    

“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”  Viktor Frankl

My reflection: The older I get the more I have come to realize that relationships are really the key to a good life and that love for others can give us strength we never knew we had. As we deal with our student-athletes, friends, and family—we need to remember to lead with love and that relationships are, at the end of the day, all that really matters.

We don’t always have control over situations in our life

Joe Ehrman, in his book “InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives,” tells us: “To be a better coach, you have to be a better you.” Reflection is critical to growth.  

Viktor Frankl teaches: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”He had to decide how he would approach each day, each moment. Again, reflection is critical to growth, how can we be our best and grow, no matter the circumstances?  

My reflection: Our ability to deal with adversity is one of the most important skills we can develop in ourselves and our student-athletes. As leaders, we need to use empathy to understand, but also to help others develop tools to handle difficulties or struggles that life throws at us. For our student-athletes, this might be sitting on a bench most games or not playing a position they want to play. Helping them to change their view and understand their value will be a valuable tool for them in the future.

Success is a by-product

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.” – Viktor Frankl

My reflection: There is not a single head coach at Eagan that is not competitive. They want to win and are training to win. However, we don’t want to win at all costs. We talk about focusing on the process. Success will happen, but that doesn’t always mean success is on the scoreboard. We make decisions each day that impact our student-athletes; we need to make sure our choices grow great people. This doesn’t mean that it is easy. We have to have the tough conversations on issues like why a student-athlete is not playing, what is their role, and how behavior is impacting the team. These conversations are tough. We need to ask ourselves—are we teaching the right lessons on trustworthiness, integrity, kindness, moral courage, empathy, and compassion?

We choose our attitude and approach each day

This is one of the most significant lessons from Viktor Frankl.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing—the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”Viktor Frankl

My reflection: This is so critical in how we approach what we do. What do we have control over? Our attitude every day is ours to choose. This will impact how we approach everything in our day and our life and will have a critical impact on those around us. What is it that I bring every day to my job, my family, my community? Our attitude matters—it impacts everyone around us.  

In the current win-at-all-costs sports culture, we too often forget our why and the way we are showing up to our students. What are you doing to deepen your relationships and invest in the young people you have the privilege to lead?