Qualities of an Effective Leader



I have recently been introduced to an arena of leaders I had never before considered, sports. Our society places such a high level of focus on sports beginning with little league, high school, college, professional, and up to the Olympics. These athletes continue to grow and constantly strive to be better. When goals are achieved, they take the time to reflect on their accomplishments and proceed in setting new goals. In the background, these athletes have somebody who is constantly pushing and encouraging them not to be satisfied with where they are; their coach.

Pat Summitt is the Head Coach for the University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team and has been said to be the “all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history men or women”. She has been the Head Coach of the Lady Vols for 31 seasons and has run the gambit as far as wins and losses. Her focus is not necessarily on winning, but on making sure her players are giving their all and reaching their potential because when that happens, the win is to follow. Often times her methods are looked upon as being insensitive and animated, however Pat is a firm believer in work hard, play hard.

Throughout her career, Pat has been asked what her formula is for her unbelievable success. She has developed a set of rules she expects all her players to know and live by; The Definite Dozen. The Definite Dozen is more less a “set of commandments” (Reach for the Summit). The Definite Dozen gives the Lady Vols their foundation upon which they build their team. Without a foundation in which to build upon, at any moment the structure could collapse and you would have to build all over again. One of these mentioned principles can not exist without the other.

Definite Dozen

Respect Yourself and Others is the first of the Definite Dozen. Respect is something that is earned and in order to receive it, you must give it; even to yourself. Before others can respect you, you must first respect yourself. Earning others respect is difficult, but if you have confidence in your abilities and give it your all at all times, others will begin to respect you. If Pat feels that somebody on the team is disrespecting her, she will call the player on it because in order for the team to succeed, they must trust and respect Pat’s calls.

Take Full Responsibility is an important part of any interaction, regardless if it is individual or team related. Inevitably we all make mistakes and there comes a time where we have to pay the price, humbling as it may be. The ability to take responsibility comes with maturity. One way in which Pat teaches responsibility is by establishing rules that all players must abide by during the season, and hold each player accountable.

Develop and Demonstrate Loyalty is a key component to the Lady Vols. Pat is honest in her comments regarding her staff saying that she hired them because they were better than in her those particular areas and trusts their judgment. Pat allows for her management team to discuss their ideas and entertains their opinions, even if they are contrary to her beliefs. When they come up with different ideas, she does not assume that they are disloyal; she understands everyone has different opinions. If there are any disagreements on the management team, it is done behind closed doors and when in front of the team, they are a unified front. This helps breed a positive culture in which to strive.

Lean to Be a Great Communicator appears to be one of Pat’s biggest sources of frustration. She believes that communicating both verbally and physically is as equally important on the court as it is off. Both during practice and games, Pat can be seen and heard yelling at her players. In order to perform at their best, there needs to be a constant flow of communication between the players and with the coach because if there is a lacking of it, opportunities are going to be missed. This is just as true in the business world as it is in team sports. If there is ambiguity, then the competition can come in and defeat you.

Discipline Yourself So No One Else Has To is the fifth in the Definite Dozen. “Discipline is the internal mechanism that self-motivates you” (Reach for the Summit). It is at the core of leadership. In order to be an effective leader, you yourself must be disciplined and lead by example. Nobody likes to be the bad guy but it is a necessary a function of a leader; letting the “team” know that there are consequences. Pat believes that disciple should be fair, firm, and consistent (Reach for the Summit). As Head Coach, she is sure to let each player know when they were not behaving appropriately and they in turn are reprimanded in front of the whole team, not only teaching them about their lack of discipline, but a little humility as well.

Make Hard Work Your Passion is a fundamental part of working towards a goal. Pat once said “I just can’t relate to people who don’t want to be at the top of their game everyday and [don’t] want to compete on every play.” (abcnews.com). If something is worth doing, it should be worth doing it right and it should be worth doing 100%. Trying to be your best is what should drive you, regardless of your field.

Don’t Just Work Hard, Work Smart refers not only to those doing physical work, but leaders as well. The best leaders are able to recognize their limitations and weaknesses and surround themselves with managers who are better than they are in those areas; by doing this the leader is able to focus on what they do best and allow others to do what they do best. Working smarter.

Put The Team Before Yourself is Pat’s way of saying one for all and all for one. In teamwork, it is important that you can rely on those around you and vice versa. It is more of an emotional state of mind and develops out of respect. If an individual is only out for themselves, they can not be relied upon during game time because it is not known whose interest they are thinking of first. “You win in life with people and if you think you can do this alone, you’re wrong.” (abcnew.com)

Make Winning an Attitude is as simple as it sounds. If you think you can and will win, chances are you will behave as such and in the end, you will. For business decisions and sports teams, attitude makes a difference. It is contagious and those around you can feel your confidence. “A lot of players come and go, but the great ones leave and other great ones arrive”.

Be a Competitor is saying that you need to out there to win it, no matter what it takes. Sometimes this works against the norm because competitors are not out there to make friends; they are out there to win. This builds on itself because the more a competitor wins, the more they want to win and the more driven they are to achieve that goal. This is never a boring state to be in, it is always in constant motion and leading to change, the next in line of the dozen.

Change Is a Must no matter what you are doing. As mentioned in the paragraph above, to be a better competitor than you were last time, you must be willing to analyze the environment and be willing to change things to catch the opponent of guard. If the rules never change, than sooner or later you will be defeated.

Handle Success Like You Handle Failure is saying that you learn equal amounts from both outcomes, although one feels better than the other. Without failure, you can never truly appreciate how good success feels. By learning what doesn’t work allows you to reexamine the game plan and make the necessary improvements in order to be successful next time.

Like most rules, the Definite Dozen circle back on each other, so to break one of the rules is breaking them all. In order to succeed, all the rules must be followed. These “commandments” are at the core of Pat’s leadership style and have become the culture of the Lady Vols. By using these rules as a foundation for the team, Pat believes that her believers become achievers.

Compassion and Leadership

Another key aspect that allows Pat to be an effective leader is her compassion for her players and the relationships she develops with each one off the court. By building a report, she can better understand the players, their goals, and what motivates them. Knowing each player individually helps in building trust and respect for her both personally and for her position. She prides herself on the “incredible graduation rate of her players and the success they have garnered in life…”. Each player at Tennessee has either received their degree or is in the process of obtaining it and Pat likens it to the fact that she instills discipline in each player.

Another reason Pat is a good leader is that not only is she trying to lead others, she is also serving as a leader to herself. She continually evaluates her own strengths and weaknesses; “When you identify your weaknesses, you can begin to remedy them – or at least figure out how to work around them.” (Reach for the Summit). By continually setting new professional goals, she has been able to stay on top of her coaching game for so many years. Pat is not willing to settle for the here and now. She is one who constantly is trying to better herself and those around her. By having a solid base on which to form her team, she has been able to redefine women’s basketball, blowing through the glass ceiling.

Pat Summitt is “intense, demanding, focused . . . very caring” and yet also has a reputation for burning hot, being overly demanding, setting to many rigid rules, and acting irrational during games. Pat has broken all the rules of women as leaders and has been essential in redefining women’s basketball. “Long-term, repetitive success is a matter of building a principled system and sticking to it. Principles are anchors; without them you will drift.” (Reach for the Summit). Because of her firm belief in her team, herself, and the Definite Dozen, Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols continue to rank in the top of women’s basketball.


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