Athletics and the administration of athletics at the collegiate level are undergoing a continual metamorphosis. No longer is athletics seen as just fun and games for the entertainment of fans. Nor can it be considered only big business, making large amounts of money for the sponsoring institution. It has become a combination of the two, entertainment and business, all within the structure and mission of higher education. Out of necessity, this metamorphosis is also evident in those who manage these programs. The essence of this change has been captured in the following statement:
The athletic director of the coming decades will be asked to meld the demands of business with the constraints of politics, all within the unique parameters of academia. It is a far cry from what it was only 20 years ago, when many schools simply ceded control of the department to the most powerful coach on campus. Or even 10 years ago when the AD with a knack for managing coaches could get by on a superficial understanding of business principles, so long as he surrounded himself with a few bean counters. (King, 2000, p. 35)
As this change continues, leadership ability will continue to increase in importance as a determinant of success for the athletic administrator. Previously, leadership ability was assumed because of athletic success (Linam, 1999). Today, those in administrative positions are receiving much more training and formal education in the business of sport than they would have in former times. Part of this education includes instruction in the nuances of leadership. Leadership has been defined by Roach and Behling (as cited in Watkins & Rikard, 1991, p. 46) as “the process of influencing the activities of an organized group toward goal achievement.” Placing this definition in the context of intercollegiate athletics, one can see its application to the athletic director: The AD would influence the activities of an organized group, the athletic department, toward the goals of athletic success and economic viability, all within the unique atmosphere of academia.
There are numerous labels given the many different ways this influencing process is played out. Two such labels are transactional leadership and transformational leadership, which have been identified as points on a continuum of leadership behavior (Bass, 1985). Field and Herold (1997) described transactional leadership as a reward-driven behavior, the follower behaving in such a manner as to elicit rewards or support from the leader. Transformational leadership has been described as behavior that transcends the need for rewards and appeals to the followers’ higher-order needs, inspiring them to act in the best interest of the organization rather than in their own self-interest (Bass, 1998).
Prominent leadership researchers (Avolio, Bass, & Jung, 1999) feel that transformational leadership is key to the continued success of organizations, because transformational leadership promotes team cohesion, organizational commitment, and higher levels of job satisfaction. Many times intercollegiate athletic departments, especially those outside the realm of Division I, are understaffed, with individuals performing multiple tasks. In these instances it would seem reasonable to think that leadership behaviors that inspire department members to act in the best interest of the organization would be essential for success.
NCAA Division I athletics, with its high-visibility programs and emphasis on the business aspect of intercollegiate sport, is an inviting subject for research. NCAA Division III, with its emphasis on the academic success of its athletes, provides an excellent alternative for a researcher. However, junior college athletics is a forgotten portion of intercollegiate athletics. By its very nature, junior college athletics can offer neither of these divergent points of view. Therefore, little research has been conducted in this realm of intercollegiate athletics.
Athletic directors at the junior college level face many of the same issues as their counterparts at four-year institutions, albeit at a much more anonymous level. These individuals need to be concerned about their leadership abilities and the levels of satisfaction of their subordinates, just like those at higher echelons of competition. It is hoped that this study will help to fill the void in the current research at this level of athletic administration and provide these sport professionals with insight into how to better lead their organizations.
Methodology and Findings
This study examined the perceived leadership styles of selected athletic directors and the levels of satisfaction of selected head coaches serving National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) member colleges from Regions III and XV. These institutions (n=50) are located in the states of New York and Vermont. Leadership data was collected using the latest version of the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ form 5X) (Avolio, Bass, & Jung, 1995). The MLQ was chosen because of its extensive use in leadership research, as it has been used in nearly 200 research programs, doctoral dissertations, and master’s theses around the globe (Avolio, Bass, & Jung, 1995, p. 6). A demographic survey, constructed by the researcher and validated by a panel of experts, was used to gather information regarding the age, gender, educational background, and levels of experience of the athletic directors and head coaches.
The subjects in this study were the intercollegiate ADs (n=50) and head coaches (n= 345) of the NJCAA colleges in Regions III and XV (n=50), representing 2 of the 24 regions that NJCAA covers. Each athletic director was mailed a packet containing a cover letter, a copy of the “leader” version of the MLQ form 5X, the “athletic director” version of the demographic survey, and a self-addressed stamped envelope. Each head coach received a similar packet containing the same cover letter, a copy of the “rater” version of the MLQ form 5X, the “head coach” version of the demographic survey, and a self-addressed stamped envelope.
These packets were mailed to each individual on 16 October 2000, with a request to return the completed MLQ form 5X and demographic survey by 1 November 2000. Follow-up was done according to the procedures suggested by Dillman (1978) in his work concerning survey sampling. This involved mailing a follow-up postcard a week after the original mailing. The postcard served as a thank you to the respondents and as a gentle reminder to those who had not yet responded. Three weeks after the original mailing, a second packet with a new cover letter and replacement copies of the appropriate MLQ form 5X and demographic survey was mailed to non-respondents only. Seven weeks after the original mailing, a final request for responses was mailed to non-respondents. It contained a cover letter very similar to the preceding letter, with replacement MLQ form 5Xs and demographic surveys. This packet was sent by certified mail to ensure delivery to the appropriate individual and to stress the importance of a reply (Dillman, 1978). Data collection ceased on 15 December 2000 and analysis began. Thirty-four athletic directors (68%) and 142 coaches (41%) responded and were considered in the study.
Descriptive statistics were generated for the athletic directors and the coaches both from the demographic data and from information gathered by the MLQ form 5X. Frequencies for age, gender, highest degree earned, and total years of experience were determined for coaches and for athletic directors. An additional variable, employment status, was determined for coaches.
Perceived leadership styles and levels of satisfaction were determined from the MLQ form 5X data. The mean scores for the transactional, transformational, and laissez-faire components were determined for each group (coaches and athletic directors). If the individual score fell above the mean for that component, that leadership style was considered dominant. If more than one component fell above the mean, the individual was determined to have a combined leadership style. A similar procedure was used to determine levels of satisfaction. If the individual’s satisfaction score was above the mean, the individual was considered satisfied; scores falling below the mean indicated lack of satisfaction.
Chi-square analyses for independence were used to measure 10 associations. First was the association between the perceived leadership styles of selected junior college athletic directors and the levels of satisfaction of head coaches reporting to them. Second was the association between perceived leadership styles of selected junior college athletic directors and the directors’ gender. Third was the association between perceived leadership styles of selected junior college athletic directors and the directors’ ages. Fourth was the association between perceived leadership styles of selected junior college athletic directors and their levels of education. The fifth association measured was that between perceived leadership styles of selected junior college athletic directors and their years of experience. The sixth association measured was that between gender of the selected junior college athletic directors and the levels of satisfaction of head coaches reporting to them. Seventh was the association between the age of selected junior college athletic directors and the levels of satisfaction of head coaches reporting to them. Eighth was the association between levels of education of selected junior college athletic directors and the levels of satisfaction of the head coaches reporting to them. Ninth was the association between years of experience offered by selected junior college athletic directors and the levels of satisfaction of head coaches reporting to them. Tenth was the association between levels of satisfaction and employment status of junior college head coaches. For each chi-square analysis, a Yates correction was automatically performed. Yates correction is a statistical technique that enhances the robustness of the chi-square in those instances in which the cells have counts below five.
An athletic director in the present study was most likely to report perceiving his or her personal leadership style as transformational, rather than another style; the proportion of ADs who reported a perceived transformational leadership style was 26.5%, and the rate rose to 50% when including the ADs who reported a perceived style combining transformational leadership with other styles. Similarly, head coaches in the study tended to perceive those ADs to whom they reported as having predominately transformational leadership styles. The head coaches perceived 28.9% of the ADs to whom they reported to exhibit a transformational style of leadership; the rate rose to 62.7% when including ADs whom the coaches perceived as combining transformational leadership with other styles.
Using a chi-square analysis for independence, no statistically significant association (p< .05) was found between the ADs’ perceptions of their leadership styles and (a) their perceptions of the levels of satisfaction their leadership provided (p = .183), (b) their gender (p=. 299), (c) their age (p=. 253), (d) their levels of education (p=. 482), or (e) their years of experience (p=. 583). Additionally, no statistically significant association (p< .05) was found between the ADs’ gender (p=. 971), age (p=. 057), levels of education (p=. 581), or years of experience (p=. 353) and the levels of satisfaction perceived by head coaches reporting to them. Finally, no statistically significant association (p< .05) was found between the perceived levels of satisfaction of junior college head coaches and their employment status (p=. 127). However, a chi-square analysis for independence did indicate a statistically significant association (p< .05) between a head coach’s perception of the leadership style of his or her AD and that coach’s perception concerning level of satisfaction provided by the AD’s leadership (p = <0.01).
As is evidenced by the breadth of research on the topic, leadership is a very complex phenomenon. It can be argued that leader behavior is impacted by the traits and skills of the leader, the traits and behaviors of the followers, the complexity of the situation, and numerous other variables, some of which may be currently unidentified. One of the prominent theories used to explain effective leadership is that of the transactional-transformational leadership continuum. Transformational leadership focuses on inspiring followers to set aside self-interest and seek the betterment of the organization; in contrast, transactional leadership focuses largely on the effort-reward exchange between followers and leader. In athletics in general, and in junior college athletics specifically, transformational leadership is essential for success. As budgets and human resources diminish and the need to do more with less increases, leadership able to transform and inspire individuals to act in organizations’ best interests will be vital.
Soucie (1994) states that leadership is perhaps the most important skill the sport administrator should possess. Sport administrators, or athletic directors, are perceived to be the causal agents in the success or failure of their organizations. Therefore, the leadership they provide determines the level of success of the organization and even the organizational culture itself, which includes among other things subordinates’ perceived levels of satisfaction.
The findings of this study resemble those of other studies (Doherty & Danylchuk, 1996; Wallace & Weese, 1995) that examined the relationship between leader behavior within the transactional-transformational paradigm and organizational factors such as levels of satisfaction. In the earlier studies, transformational leadership behaviors were found to be positively associated with high levels of satisfaction. While the current study did not examine exclusively the relationship between transformational leadership behavior and levels of satisfaction, the study results do indicate that (a) the head coaches perceived their ADs to have predominately transformational leadership styles, (b) most coaches perceived their ADs’ leadership to be satisfying, and (c) there was a highly significant association between the perception of AD leadership style and perceived levels of satisfaction.
The results of the current study indicate that other variables did not have a statistically significant association (p< .05) with perceived levels of satisfaction. This finding should not be a surprise, given the nature of coaches. Wallace and Weese (1995) noted that YMCA employees are altruistic individuals, working toward the common goal of providing excellent service for their clients. Coaches, while they may not be every bit as altruistic as YMCA employees, tend to be practical individuals. Variables such as the age and gender of the AD or education or experience of the AD are unlikely to make much impact on a coach’s perceived satisfaction. If a coach is provided the resources and support needed to produce an excellent program, that coach will be satisfied. It is quite possible that if the variables of funding, other resources, and institutional support were to be examined, more significant associations might be found.
In conclusion, leadership research will continue to be a priority in the sport setting, as it is in other organizations. Currently, the conclusions reached are unclear or, oftentimes, contradictory. However, as the research continues, we will begin to gain a clearer understanding of the role of leadership and its impact on subordinates in the sport enterprise. Perhaps Soucie (1994) put it best, when he said that there are no absolute truths about effective leadership, but those of us privileged to serve in a formal leadership role within an athletic enterprise know that the rewards are plenty (p. 11). We owe both those whom we lead, and ourselves, a continued examination of this complex and amazing phenomenon we call leadership.
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