James C. Hunter said, “Leadership is influence.” With that, the ultimate question is how can a person in a position to influence, such as the athletic director, impact the athletes, programs, school and ultimately the overall culture? It all starts with your own purpose and your own “why”.
As an athletic director, coach or any person with the ability to work with and influence others, you must be well-engrained with your own purpose for doing what you do each and every day. Without this foundation and inner purpose, how can one serve and influence in a positive manner? My charge is that you cannot. With this in mind, it is imperative to form this foundation. For me, I define my purpose and then I follow up with a single word that will allow for constant reminders of my purpose and my why. For me, my why is this, “Make today better than yesterday and let tomorrow take care of itself.” For the last three years, I have adopted my word for the year to support this. These words have been “intentional” and “finish”, and this year is “courage”. Don’t cheat this step; it is imperative that this be the first task in order to set the tone and get yourself grounded in something you believe in and more importantly in something that will withstand adversity and pressure, including that pressure from parents. Stay strong and committed to your purpose, your why. Be genuine in your efforts and consistently reinforce what you stand for. Jon Gordon said it well in The Carpenter, “People can tell if you have and agenda. So don’t have one. Just love, serve, care and build relationships and your influence will grow.”
At Sumner High School where I work, we have built a culture centered on servant-leadership and the eight essentials. The eight essentials include kindness, respect, humility, selflessness, forgiveness, honesty, commitment and patience. I use this to drive everything I do as an assistant principal, athletic director and ASB/Student Council Administrator. I am fortunate to be in a community that also embraces these very concepts. It has come with a lot of hard work and effort to bring servant-leadership to SHS. Use the resource you have and plug into the community resources in your area. Each community is unique and has many great resources available. Be humble enough to know that you do not have all the answers and there are many that can assist you in this journey.
Perhaps the most influential idea that has developed for me over the years is something that is called “Baines Land”. It didn’t start out that way, and in fact, the name itself makes me feel a little uneasy. This idea started with a conversation between my wife, Marguerite, and myself in our garage. I was sharing with her my desire to get the Sumner High School staff more involved with our students’ extra-curricular lives at Sumner High School. Our conversation shifted to home football games and my desire to provide an opportunity for staff to come out and support the team, cheerleaders, dance team and band, while they performed at our home games.
That September we began to advertise free food and a place to play for kids so adults could watch the game at each of our home football games. I told everyone, all they needed to do was to show up and come find me in the west end zone. It all started with a 10x10 pop-up tent and a few pizzas for everyone to eat and some bottled water. That first game, a small crowd came down to enjoy the evening. Kids played on the ride along toys and everyone enjoyed their pizza and the game. The thing that struck me more than anything was the connection our staff was making with each other. There was conversation and smiles, not to mention a great spot to watch the game.
As that first year went on, the numbers began to grow. I added pizza, snacks, water and coffee to the menu. As we approached year two, our toy inventory grew and the menu expanded a little bit more. In terms of people attending, the numbers climbed and have continued to climb. The community that was being formed was amazing. The bonds being made to each other, our school and our teams were growing as well. What started out as a small idea has grown into an amazing display of community within Sumner High School. It was at the conclusion of the second year that the term “Baines Land” was coined. This is easily a tribute to my amazing wife and our Spartan Community. What started out on game #1 with one pop-up tent and a few pizzas has grown into eight tents, Jimmy John sandwiches, water, juice coffee, snacks and the ultimate playground for the little ones. Kids enjoy bikes, cars, legos, riding toys, balls, trikes, and this year the addition of a pop-a-shot and inflatable slide! In the end it’s not about anything other than how my wife and I were able to find a way to serve the community and have a positive influence on so many people that mean so much to us.
I hope you were able to get a small sense of my approach to my role as an athletic director and to my approach to influencing my athletes, coaches and parents in a positive way. When you walk away from your next high school contest or activity, think of those young men and women that competed and participated as amazing young men and women that displayed tremendous courage and left everything out there for their school, their family and more important, themselves. Be thankful for them and please make sure that you let them know. Even the biggest, brightest and most expensive scoreboard is turned OFF at the end of the night. Always remember, “The courage to step into and enter the arena is much more important than any result. It’s all about the journey.”
- Character Education
John Norlin is a Co-Founder of CharacterStrong, a Servant Leadership trainer, and motivational speaker. He was Washington Advisor of the Year, taught 5 leadership classes per semester for 10 years at Sumner High School, and was a Program Administrator for the Whole Child for five years.