Leading — The Aggie Way

aggie leadership councilBy Bob Starkey

One of my staff responsibilities at Texas A&M is to head up our “Leadership Council.”  It is a group of our student-athletes that meet weekly to discuss the elements of leadership and how we can best apply them to improving our team.  Often we spend time working on basketball skills as coaches — shooting, passing, dribbling and rebounding — but not leadership.  I often hear coaches talk about how they lack leadership on their team and I always respond, “are you teaching it?”

This biggest part of our Leadership Council is not me preaching but me listening a lot.  We have six members this year on our council and my number one goal is to create ownership of our culture with our team.  It’s their vehicle…they have the keys…now where and how are we going to drive it.  Their voice, thoughts and ideas are critical to developing successful leaders — not just for our basketball team but for later in life.

Our objectives with the council include:

#1 To develop and improve upon our leadership as individuals.

#2 To create a leadership culture that will positively impact our team.

“Leadership isn’t a difference maker, it’s THE difference maker.” -Urban Meyer

This year’s council includes Taylor Cooper, Alyssa Michalke, Curtyce Knox, Jasmine Lumpkin, Anriel Howard and Danni Williams.

And our council this year has been outstanding.  Last year we lost three starters — all who spent some time in the WNBA.  We lost the SEC 6th Player of the Year and our top post player off the bench.  Coaches and sportswriters alike pegged us to finish in the lower half of the SEC.  Terms like “rebuilding” were used often.  Yet here we are finishing in the top half of the SEC, winning two games in the SEC tournament, owner of 21 regular season victories while awaiting our dance ticket in the NCAA.

And a big reason has to be the job our council has done in communicating with our team and providing a great example.  The season can be a grind and the response of a team to the difficulty and adversity that is face is essential.  We talk about making sure that our leadership council wins the locker room.  The leadership is magnified significantly AWAY from practices and games.

We meet weekly in our conference room with the letters “Leadership Council” above us.  In the past, we have had individual photos of each member of the council.  This year, we exchanged that for a team photo with the quote “Life’s most urgent question is what are you doing for others,” by Dr. Martin Luther King.

Learning to lead is not an easy thing to do.  It takes time and understanding of what goes into it.  The reason most reject opportunities to lead is because of the great responsibility that comes with it.

We tell them to follow the words of Jim Rohn: “Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.  Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills.  Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom.”

The first thing we do each year is create a Mission Statement.  This year our council came up with the following:

By serving selflessly as leaders, setting an example worth following, and establishing a positive culture, we will develop strong, confident leaders capable of overcoming adversity and challenges in pursuit of their goals.

aggie leadership council2One of the things we do each we is discuss passages from “The Daily Reader” by John Maxwell.  I am always blown away with each our student-athletes and what they bring away from the daily reading that they choose to share.

This year we asked our council to then go into detail about how we can put our mission statement to work and, lead by Alyssa, they came up with the following:

Serving Selflessly as Leaders

Listen and understand the needs of our teammates

Provide mentorship and guidance to underclassmen and new-comers

Praise our teammates in public, while saving criticism for private conversations

Always put others first, no matter the situation

Setting an Example Worth Following

Have a positive attitude at all times

Body language, tone, execution during practice, etc.

Take coaching and criticism well

Use it as an opportunity to grow and develop into a better person and player, not a chance to talk back to a coach or teammate

Exhibit a strong desire to improve with every rep, every drill, every practice

Encourage and support our teammates who are facing adversity

Behave appropriately, respectfully, and maturely at all times, including road trips, study hall, team dinners, etc.

Be respectful and appreciative to those people serving us (managers, practice players, coaches, waiters, staff, etc.)

Be a quiet professional, but know when to speak up to make a point

Establishing a Positive Culture

Hold each other accountable to high standards, knowing that our example and our choices carry considerable weight

Call each other out when we’re not practicing well, when we miss a team function (weights, study hall)

Challenge and push each other to become better individuals first, better athletes second

Be firm, fair, and consistent, both when praising and holding our teammates accountable

Don’t encourage, tolerate, enable, or cause behavior that is detrimental to our team

Developing Strong, Confident Leaders

Challenge others to step outside their comfort zone in pursuit of personal development and improvement

Set an example of strength, confidence, and maturity when faced with challenges

Provide opportunities for others to showcase their strengths and abilities

Of course, as in the game of basketball itself, game plans are important but they are insignificant if not followed by execution.

What an amazing document!  I’m proud of them for their vision but more importantly for their effort they’ve put forth in executing that vision.

Thank you Leadership Council for a job well done — now let’s finish!

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”