Author: Chris Hobbs
Chris Hobbs, CMAA, Ed.S.
120 Nottingham Rd
Royal Palm Beach, FL. 33411
Chris Hobbs is the Director of Athletics and Head Boys’ Basketball Coach at The King’s Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida. He holds a masters’ degree from the United States Sports Academy in Sport Coaching, a specialist degree in educational leadership from Liberty University, and is a certified master athletic administrator (CMAA) of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.
TRANSFORM YOURSELF: Literature-based review of transformational leadership behaviors transformational leadership behaviors and practical applications for high school athletic administrators
Transformational leadership has risen to the top of many lists as the preferred leadership practice for organizations. Information on its effectiveness for an interscholastic athletic administrator in a high school is difficult to find. High school athletic departments continue to grow with nearly 8 million student-athletes participating in them (NFHS, 2017). The responsibilities of the leaders overseeing those departments is broadening by the day. Literature is beginning to provide insights into how transformational leadership is the preferred method for even athletic administrators. Leaders that are clear about their purpose, time, communication, and people are increasing organizational and individual effectiveness in athletic departments. Athletic administrators have a platform to transform entire communities through educational based athletics but first they must become informed on how to transform themselves into transformational leaders.
Keywords: transformational leadership, leadership, athletic administrator
The argument for the value of interscholastic athletics is becoming increasingly easy to defend. The National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) reported nearly 8 million students participating in athletics marking the twenty eighth straight year there has been an increase in participation (NFHS, 2017). Millions of student-athletes reap the research-based benefits of their interscholastic athletic participation including but not limited to (NFHS, n.d.): 1) a unique support experience to the academic curriculum 2) the stand-alone educational value of the athletic experience 3) enhanced health physically, socially, mentally, and academically 4) an experience that fosters success later in life in areas such as team-building and citizenship 5) exposure to unselfish coaching leadership that holds student-athletes accountable to growth. Leaders in the realm of educational-based athletics are even drawing on their athletic departments to assist school communities in healing from the tragedy of mass shootings on their campuses (Gardner & Singleton, 2018). The argument for the value of interscholastic athletics continues to strengthen when one considers the increased expectation of stakeholders for the athletic experience of student-athletes to be enhanced (Abuhlaleh, 2016). Athletic departments should not be argued as the highest priority of an educational institution but they most certainly can be viewed as the highest profile part holding the ability to galvanize entire communities and empower its student participants. It could almost be assumed that a department yielding so much influence would require volumes of information on how to lead it yet it is stunning to find little research conducted on the role of the individual leading this influential department: the interscholastic athletic administrator (Abuhlaleh, 2016).
Athletic Administrator: The broadest of leadership responsibilities
The athletic director position has grown from a leisurely part-time responsibility of managing schedules offered to a veteran coach on the tail end of their career to possibly the broadest administrative leadership position on a school campus. Judge & Judge (2009) citing these massive changes urged schools to utilize the term athletic administrator as a reminder of the breadth of the responsibilities that the positon now entailed. Hiring, evaluations, firings, vision casting, fundraising, facilities, community networking, transportation, and volunteer management are just a few of the areas that an athletic administrator must oversee not-to-mention the relentlessness of athletic contests logistics six days per week (Hoch, 2000). Recently, the role of promoter has been added to the athletic administrator’s list of expectations as society continues to demand a narrative from its leaders especially in the area of sports which evokes such passionate interests from its constituents (Judge & Judge, 2009). Underestimated are the number of outside entities that an athletic administrator is responsible to (Judge & Judge, 2009). The National Federation of High Schools (NFHS), state athletic associations, corporate sponsors, game contracts with other schools, and conferences all have deadlines and expectations of time and energy that the athletic administrator must attend to.
It should be clear that the position of athletic administrator should be filled by some of the most skilled, passionate, educated, and committed leaders in a school community yet the formal preparation to hold such a position is hard to find and under-supported by schools (Abuhlaleh, 2016). Athletic administrators are left to discover opportunities to grow themselves to effectively meet and exceed the leadership expectations of their position so that athletic departments can yield the benefits for student-athletes that were previously described (NFHS, n.d.).
Transformational Leadership: A relevant leadership model for challenging times
The key relationship in an organization is the leader-follower relationship and as such the key relationship in an athletic department is the athletic administrator – coach relationship (Aggarwal & Krishnan, 2014). Bass (1985) researched and proposed the idea of transformational leadership as a model in which the leader and follower unify in their pursuit of organizational goals on the basis of mutual concern for each other. Transformational leadership (TL) has been identified by some researchers as the most desirable and most effective form of leadership in an organizational setting (Kim, et., al, 2012). Davis (2015) pointed to TL as highly effective in unstable and constantly changing environments. Cruikshank (2016) presented TL as the premier modern perspective on effective leadership. Adding additional weight to TL for an athletic administrator is the unique nature of the followers. Interscholastic coaches are often times educators themselves holding multiple degrees in their academic field along with advanced experiences in the sport they coach. Kuchler (2008) identified TL as compatible leadership model when working with a highly educated workforce. Manning (2012) urged leaders to embrace TL as the effective leadership method to connect with followers that are most networked and most diverse that the workforce has ever known.
Despite volumes of information on TL and its effectiveness it is still an under-investigated leadership model in the world of sport leadership, particularly, athletic administration. Kim (2012) pointed out that very little information exists on TL in a sport context. Abuhlaleh (2016) stated that even less information exists on TL and its application to interscholastic athletic administrators. The National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Associate (NIAAA) saw such clear benefits in TL that it designed courses for athletic administrators to familiarize themselves with this fast-rising and effective form of leadership (Abuhlaleh, 2016).
TL, simply put, unites the leader and the follower in common purpose (Yusof, 1998). TL creates this unification by appealing to the higher order needs of the followers (Peachey, Burton, & Wells, 2013). The unification of leader and follower should be of intense interest to athletic administrators because quality leadership never forces people to follow (Hobbs, 2018). Followers choose their leader in today’s context based upon their perceived connection with the leader (Hobbs, 2018). The decision to follow is in the hands of the followers so leadership theories that lay the groundwork for followers to make such decisions should be closely investigated. Considering that in the context of interscholastic athletic departments, the followers are coaches that are having lifetime impact on student-athletes; an athletic administrator’s leadership is critical.
TL encompasses four dimensions (Bass, 1985):
- Idealized Influence – the leader uses the bridges of trust and respect to promote vision and beliefs in the value of the objective
- Inspirational leadership – communicating high expectations to followers and the belief that the followers can meet the expectations
- Individualized Consideration – the leader develops personal relationship and concern for the individual and their development
- Intellectual Stimulation – the leader empowers followers to proactively and creatively solve problems
Transformational leadership: Intentional behaviors
The list of TL dimensions can seem intimidating but there are many behaviors that an athletic administrator can take on that will cross over multiple of these domains and encourage the followers to unite with the leader. The behaviors can be categorized into character, compassion, and communication.
Intentional behaviors: character
Burg (2004) stated that competence matters in leadership but character matters even more. TL hinges on much the same idea. Kim (2012) advocated for leaders to practice what they preach holding themselves to the same standards that they challenged their followers to meet. TL in athletic departments are trusted because coaches know that the athletic administrator has a high personal standard in the areas of morals and ethics (Abuhlaleh, 2016). Coaches have great confidence in the character of the athletic administrator because it is known that the leader will do the right thing regardless of the situation. This foundation of character steadies a leader and makes them less likely to make impulsive decisions based on circumstances that could contradict the vision and goals for the department (Manning, 2012). An understated element of character-based leadership is the importance of consistency. Leaders must be consistent in all areas of their leadership efforts in order to validate the vision and goals that they are trying to galvanize coaches to (Northington, 2015).
Intentional behaviors: compassion
A key motivation for TL is unwavering belief that the pursuit of the organizational objective is in the best interest of the followers (Doherty & Danylchuk, 1996). The leader is skilled at aligning the vision and the followers because the leader learns what the followers need (Abuhlaleh, 2016). Leaders that utilize transformational leadership behaviors (TLB) take an agreeable stance with their followers and are perceived as kind and even cooperative as they assist in problem solving (Burton & Peachey, 2009). Manning (2012) noted that leaders ought to prioritize the follower’s quality of life to the point that it does affect decision making. Lim and Cromartie (2008) challenged leaders to develop their ability to prioritize the needs of those that they are leading. The athletic administrator has many things to balance and prioritize but maximum leadership effectiveness may lie in the ability to put the followers on the top of that priority list.
Intentional behaviors: communication
Kouzes & Posner (2012) stated that leadership is a relationship and the tool that is needed to develop it is communication. Leaders communicate in a large variety of ways and many of those ways do not utilize words. What a leader spends their time on, and what they are willing to ignore are examples of how leaders communicate. Communication is a key component of TL. Leaders utilizing TL must constantly communicate the ‘why’ of their endeavor (Peachy, 2013). Communicating the ‘why’ of the vision allows for followers to decide if the leader’s ‘why’ should also be their ‘why’. It is at this decision that TL can change followers’ values, beliefs, and attitudes (Yusof, 1998). TL communicates high expectations in a variety of ways but most potently through their own behavior (Abuhlaleh, 2016). Leaders can never underestimate how their own behavior is a model for how their followers will eventually behave. Northington (2015) highlighted that a leader communicates follower worth by how well the leader listens. This two-way communication can validate vision and goals to the follower without the leader ever actually saying a word. Peachey (et al., 2015) laid the communication of culture at the feet of the leader. What the leader does each day, and how the leader responds to what happens each day is a seminal point of communication for the culture of a department or organization. In essence, a leader’s actions and reactions communicate culture. Transformational leaders are skilled at leveraging what they do and say to communicate a very specific and consistent message.
Transformational leadership: organizational and individual outcomes
The literature on follower response to transformational leadership is where many leaders should find substantial motivation. Today’s society is the most connected and informed that the world has known utilizing tools to share their perspectives globally. TL continues to come out on top as the preferred leadership model to match today’s society (Manning, 2012).
TL has been proven to have impact on entire organizations. Lim and Cromartie (2008) pointed out that the main cause of organizational dysfunction and failure in the United States is ineffective leadership. Transformational leaders in athletic departments are those that move departments to becoming more creative and passionate about what they are doing (Abuhlaleh, 2016). Kim (et al., 2012) pointed to unity as a key effect of TL on an organization. TL enables an athletic department to adapt more effectively to the fast changing environment and continuous change that confronts so many organizations (Manning, 2012). Culture has been shown to be positively changed across the face of an organization by TL because of its emphasis on the needs of the individual follower (Peachey, 2015). Kuchler (2008) added that the empowerment of individuals to be leaders themselves pursuing the organizational vision facilitates a quick change to organizational culture.
Transformational leadership’s unique influence may lie in its unique emphasis on the needs and care of the individual. Coaches demonstrate great commitment to an athletic department when the athletic administrator utilizes TL (Kim, et., al., 2012). Satisfaction with coaching experience, and extra effort are coaching responses to TL (Doherty & Danylchuk, 1996). Coaches envision new possibilities and exceed the already set high expectations when they are led by a TL (Manning, 2012). The performance of coaches reaches new levels of excellence under the direction of a TL (Engbers, 2011). Athletic administrators are perceived by their followers as more effective, consistently passionate, and inspirational when they utilize TL (Burton & Peachey, 2009). Aggarwal & Krishnan (2014) may have summed up the individual outcomes of TL best when they described the leader-follower relationship as mutually stimulating.
Athletic administrators: Encouragement to clarify transformational leadership
Leaders that are clear on why they lead and how they lead are significantly more effective (Kouzes & Posner, 2012). Clarity provides stability through the turbulence of leadership challenges. The remainder of this writing will focus succinctly on providing clarity for the reader to consider transformational leadership for themselves. This literature review on the topic of transformational leadership was conducted almost exclusively in the context of athletic administration. The objective of this literature review is to bring to conscious mind the responsibilities and challenges of the interscholastic athletic administrator position, present transformational leadership as an effective leadership model for the interscholastic athletic administrator, and make practical suggestions for its implementation. In light of the literature review, the objective of the writing, and the expertise of the author; athletic administrators are encouraged to consider clarifying their purpose, time, communication, and concern.
Transformational leadership for the interscholastic athletic administrator: clarifying purpose
Athletic administrators face a variety of challenges and significant stressors. Jon Gordon (2011) stated that people don’t burn out because of what they do. They burn out because they forget why they do it. An athletic administrator should come up with a clear and succinct statement that is a fresh reminder for why they believe so strongly in the value of interscholastic athletics. This purpose statement can be a great anchor in the stormy seas of athletic administration and facilitate consistent leadership efforts on the part of the athletic administrator. A quick review of the NFHS or NIAAA websites will provide a variety of information on the value of interscholastic athletics that will allow an athletic administrator to formulate a purpose statement that they firmly believe in. It is the process of clarifying purpose that a leader will begin to move towards becoming a transformational leader.
Transformational leadership for the interscholastic athletic administrator: clarifying time
Day (2013) noted that athletic administrators on the NCAA Division III level have less time available to engage in transformational leadership behaviors (TLB) than their Division I or II counterparts. The effective Division III athletic administrator was the one who was intentional in making time to engage in TLB. It’s not a very difficult logical leap to think that high school athletic administrators are under similar stresses as many are balancing responsibilities outside of athletic administration or leading large departments by themselves (Hoch, 2000). The clarifying of intentional time for these athletic administrators comes in minutes, not hours, and is most effective when it is done simply and consistently. The clarifying of the aforementioned purpose provides motivation to clear up time to make sure that the leader themselves is pursuing growth worthy of their purpose. Advanced certification classes through NIAAA or NFHS, a graduate program, or even systematic readings on leadership topics will move a leader towards what Doherty (1997) described as idealized influence, and intellectual stimulation.
Transformational leadership for the interscholastic athletic administrator: clarifying communication
Communication has become completely unlocked from time and location as a result of the technological revolution (Newport, 2016). For the athletic administrator seeking to become more transformational in their leadership this is great news. Emails, text messages, blogs, Twitter, and LinkedIn are all ways that an athletic administrator can become more intentional about communicating consistently about the purpose of their athletic departments to a wide variety of constituents. The key is not the mode, nor the length of the communication; the key is the consistency of the message. An athletic administrator should communicate with their stakeholders consistently through the systemized timing of electronic communication and alignment with verbal word and physical deed. A Monday morning email or Wednesday evening group text message can be a welcome motivation to the weariness that besets even the most passionate of coaches. As the coaches begin to see the communication and its alignment with the behavior of the athletic administrator, the effects of TLB begin to take root.
Transformational leadership for the interscholastic athletic administrator: clarifying concern
It is possible that a sincere concern for the coaches as individuals and passion to set them up to impact student-athletes’ lives has been understated as a motivation for transformational leadership. To be clear, it is the primary motivation. Concern for coaches is most regularly expressed by the athletic administrator by how they listen and how they help. Abuhlaleh (2016) identified listening as a key skill for the transformational leader. An effective way to demonstrate listening is to repeat back to the coach what they have just said and ask the coach to confirm its accuracy. Northington (2015) advocated for this as two-way listening.
Transformational leadership has elements of the servant-leadership model popularized by Greenleaf (Black, 2010). The elements of this leadership model and its crossover into transformational leadership can be seen in how the leader cares for the followers. Hobbs (2016) advocated for athletic administrators to create a schedule of which coach they would help clean up from practice one time per week. The quick resolution of an issue with a gracious demeanor that arises from a coaches’ panicked phone call over a scheduling mishap can go great lengths in demonstrating concern and care for the coach as an individual. As an athletic administrator considers their own demonstrations of concern for their coaches as individuals they would be wise to filter it through the following idea: what am I doing for my coaches for no other reason than my care and concern for them? Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeye’s Chicken, as cited by Hobbs (2018) noted that people give their best to an organization when the people are well served.
The modern day interscholastic athletic administrator can become a key component in the overall educational experience of a student and facilitate a positive perception of an entire school district to a community, region, and state. A case has been made for embracing a transformational leadership model to navigate today’s rapidly changing society and serve student-athletes and coaches well. Transformational leadership is not the easy way out for an athletic administrator. Transformational leadership actually requires more focused and intentional efforts on the part of the leader but that is likely where its potency lies (Manning, 2012). It is often said that the quality of the return is a reflection of the quality of the investment. The benefit of educational-based athletics is certainly worth the investment of the athletic administrator.
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