9 Pieces of Advice I Learned From Meeting A College Athletic Director

Recently I had an opportunity to listen to a talk from a college athletic director on life, leadership, and learning in higher education. Here are 9 of my take-aways from the encounter with her.

It’s important to build relationships and keep service as a top priority. Whether it be working with your peers, supervisors, people who report to you, work to build strong relationships with the people within your department, as well as other players and decision-makers you may need to interact with.

Continually seek to increase your understanding of their role, the demands of their work, and how you, through service, can help them do their jobs better and look good. Understand your success is dependent on theirs, and their success is dependent on yours.

Every month, pick at least one thing that you plan to do to help your organization, and write it down. This can help you with setting goals, as well as with evaluating what has already been done, and with setting priorities for the future.

By the end of the year, you’ll have at least 12 things you’ve done to help move things forward. You can bring this list to annual reviews, and, when the time comes, also use them in the next interview for talking points. In either case, be ready to tell a story that brings people along with you as you explain:

  • What was the scenario?

  • What idea(s) did you have for a solution or course of action?

  • What happened when you tried to implement the idea(s)?

  • The outcome(s)

Unquestioning support can have it’s downsides, but you need to support the leaders you work for. This goes back to seeking understanding of the roles and demands of the people who are leading you. Sometimes, leaders may not be able to share all the details up front. It’s important to have trusting relationships with them.

Leaders have their own work to do towards earning that trust. Pay attention to previous interactions, patterns of behavior, and results before jumping to conclusions on things you may not be sure about.

Communication in leadership is not a one-way street. Leaders need to be able to follow as well. You should be able to adapt your leadership style to complement the style of those you report to, and should also be able to adapt your style to the people who work for you; which are more properly understood as the people you work for.

“That’s just the way it’s always been done/We always do it that way”. Pay close attention to those words, and try to avoid using them because they are the dying words of an organization.

Having a solid understanding of history and context is important, but leaders also need to be willing to change directions when necessary.

Who you work for can have a transformative impact on your career. Good leaders work to build on the strengths and potential of the people they lead. Instead of holding them back; hiding information and opportunities that can hinder growth, good leaders help others to self-actualize, whether it is with them, or if it will mean helping them to get the skills required to move on to where they’d like to be.

Work hard, and manage your career. Some people spend a lot of time “managing their careers”, trying to move up the ranks, without actually taking the time to put service first and have their work and credibility speak for them when the time comes.

Make informed decisions, but do it for the right reasons.

You’re never going to be what you’re going to be unless you name it and speak it out loud. Whatever you want to be, whatever way you want to serve, don’t keep it to yourself. There’s something powerful about making it public by sharing it with others.

Wherever you want to go, you’ll need mentors and sponsors to get there. Find mentors and let them know that you want to be them. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help. Find, and build relationships with people who are currently where you would like to go.

There are people who are more than willing to share about the paths they took along the way, pieces of advice, what to do, who to talk to, what to avoid and more, but they are only able to share those things with you if they know that you want to know.

So share it out loud.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW



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Written by

I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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6 Responses

  1. Tanya says:

    Hi! I love your blog! Is there a way to follow it on WordPress?

  2. Tanya says:

    Got it! I’m following your blog now!

    • Wonderful! I’m glad to hear it. Yours was an excellent question that has come up more than few times in the past from WordPress.com users who’d like to follow N.A.H. I’m going to be making a brief blog post with the directions I responded with shortly, and make sure they’re posted in my navigation bar for others who may have your same question in the future.

      Thanks for your comment! I wouldn’t have thought to create a post about it without you. I’m sure others will thank you too.

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