10 Leadership Lessons from the Lehigh Athletics Leadership Academy

In its fifth year, the John A. Cable Center for Athletics Leadership Development, housing the Lehigh Athletics Leadership Academy, fosters and inspires a culture of leadership at Lehigh.  Written by Lehigh Athletics Leadership Academy Director Julie Sterrett, here are 10 Leadership Lessons from Lehigh that you can adopt or adapt with your team.

1. Recruiting Leadership Potential

As Good to Great author Jim Collins notes in his work, success starts with getting the "right people" on the bus. Three-time Patriot League Championship Head Football Coach Andy Coen operates with the same core belief and understanding that people are our greatest resource:

“The habits and practices which I believe make our program successful are the building blocks and foundation of our program.  Our football team is no different the any other successful company; we will only be as good as the people who make up our organization.  We start by finding the right men to coach.  We try to bring in good character people who want an opportunity to develop as athletes and men.  The most important trait these young men share is that they are all passionate about football and understand the team dynamic from day one.” 

Careful and competitive recruitment and selection of coaches and student-athletes with the desire and potential to impact themselves and others in meaningful ways continues to be a priority for each of our programs at Lehigh.

How well do you consider the intangibles of leadership, character, and motivation when selecting the "right people" to get on your team's bus?


2. Developing a Common Language

With the right people in place, the next step in the creation of a strong culture of leadership involves the adoption of common language among your people.  The Team Captains Leadership Model outlined in Jeff Janssen's Team Captain's Leadership Manual, provides clear and consistent vocabulary for coaches and student-athletes to communicate efficiently about their team leadership strengths and weaknesses. 

One of the most effective vocabulary tools we have implemented across classes and teams involves the language of the Commitment Continuum™.  Lehigh Head Baseball Coach Sean Leary recognizes the value of this construct in evaluating his team:  “The Commitment Continuum™ is common vocabulary on our team.  It allows us to directly assess team and individual buy-in.”

Members of our Leadership Academy (Emerging Leaders, Veteran Leaders and Coaches) engage in a joint Commitment Continuum™ workshop once or twice a year to maintain positive momentum toward team goals.

How well have you developed a common language and vocabulary to better understand and emphasize the important intangibles on your team?


3. Paying It Forward

The Emerging Leaders program of the Lehigh Athletics Leadership Academy requires all participants to create and facilitate a workshop for local middle school students.  Every year, Emerging Leaders find great value in giving back to the community in a meaningful way, and every year, they acknowledge this element of the program as one of the most significant contributors to their own leadership learning.  As Edgar Dale said, “We remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 70% of what we discuss with others, 80% of what we personally experience, and 95% of what we teach to others."  Leadership education must involve an experience for student-athletes to truly grasp the concepts.  The Emerging Leaders “community teach-backs” have provided this opportunity.

How can you encourage your athletes to "pay it forward" by teaching the concepts they know to others?


4. Team Reads

Many of our teams expand upon the leadership learning happening more formally in our Academy by requiring “team reads” of popular books in the leadership and peak performance fields.  John Maxwell’s Talent is Never Enough, Jay Bilas’ Toughness, and many books outlining the work and wisdom of Coach John Wooden have instigated transformational dialogues among teams about visions, goals, and accountability in action. 

Field Hockey Coach Stacey Blue has found that these dialogues “help my team with holding themselves and others accountable.”  She also mentioned the impact of multiple touch points on a single team vision.  When student-athletes hear the same core leadership messages from various people, the importance of personal responsibility and team accountability becomes more real and more valued.

How can you incorporate books and other resources to continually educate your team?


For six more Leadership Lessons from the Lehigh Athletics Leadership Academy, our Championship Coaches Network members can click here.



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