True Leadership

By Raymond Bass

As a retired management consultant at the corporate level, it is my experience that leadership is the single most important factor in any successful organization. Like it or not, it all goes back to the people in charge. At the high school, college or pro level, when a team is consistently at the bottom, it is usually the coach/leader who is replaced, not the team.

I have always been tough on leaders because they set the tone and example for the members, establish the organizational priorities and set the future direction of the officials association. What is important to leadership usually becomes important to the members. Whether it is appearance, hustle, sportsmanship, communications, consistency, morale, recruitment or trust and integrity, those goals will on average be achieved only if leadership shows the way. Without the proper leadership, many organizations will fail. You must understand your role as the leader of your officials association.

1. Vision. The number one responsibility of leadership is to have a vision for the local association. Where is the association going? How will it get there? Is it somewhere that the membership wants to go? Is the direction of the vision practical, reasonable, and do the members want to buy-in and work hard to get there? Is the vision worthy and will it make the officials and the association better? It can’t be just the leader’s vision; it must be the members’ vision also.

2. Visibility. Leaders need to be visible. If you are not there on a regular basis, members wonder if you really care. While at weekly meetings, observing/evaluating officials, officiating games, mentoring new officials, and otherwise engaged in your leadership role, give verbal praise, use members’ names, ask about their family, and otherwise demonstrate care and concern for the members. Also ask them what you can do to make things better so they can improve as a game official. Let the members know that you care about them as individuals, not just as someone who can drive 50 miles to do the job of officiating.

3. Achieve and succeed. Members need to know that leadership wants them to be the very best officials that they have the potential of becoming, and that they truly want each official to personally achieve and succeed. Members need to know the behavioral expectations necessary to successfully work a junior high game or a state championship game. They need a structured path to follow in order to become a top-rated official. Peak performers want to achieve and succeed and be the best they can be. Leaders need to provide an established path for members to become a peak performer.

4. Communication. Many official association leaders have a great vision for their association, but they are not very good at communicating the vision, and how it will be achieved, to the membership. Leadership is sometimes unable to paint a verbal picture of what the association can do to separate itself from other associations and set a new standard of excellence. Without a visual map that is communicated to the members, there is no telling where the association will end up. As Yogi Berra is credited with saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you may end up somewhere else.”

5. Measurable goals. Those things that get measured usually get done. That is why the vision has to be specific and communicated effectively to members. Measurability is needed so that members can determine where they are and how close they are to achieving the organizational vision. The leader should not have to be there to tell the membership how they are doing. Where goals are easily measured, the members can clearly determine how they are doing by themselves. So, if there can be a regular feedback report, it will be easy to provide suggestions on how the association and the membership are doing, concerning the achievement of the association’s vision.

6. Team approach. Anything that is worth doing is typically worth taking a team approach to achieve. Working together, the team can help to focus, direct, measure and reward the association’s achievement of the organization’s vision. Forming a team to develop a plan to achieve the association’s goal is a great way to obtain ownership and buy-in by those who actually have to do the work of achieving the vision.

7. Champions. If anyone should carry the banner and lead the way for excellence, it should be the leaders. Leadership should show the way, communicate members’ accomplishments upward, and never miss an opportunity to brag on the membership and champion their achievements. A verbal pat-on-the-back and handwritten note of appreciation will go a long way to let members know that their leaders are aware of their outstanding efforts and that the leaders care about them and support them.

8. Training. Leaders usually don’t just happen. They are groomed, developed, prepared, mentored and trained. Leadership is not only important at the state level; it is important at the local association level. It is needed at the regional level, at the local level, at each game, and for each member. Potential leaders should be identified, separated from the crowd and prepared for their future roles. Leadership training is key to their future development and to the direction of the association itself.

When those leadership suggestions are implemented, it will bring your officiating association together and result in happier members, with higher morale, who better produce the agreed upon results, and with improved levels of customer satisfaction from those who utilize the association’s services. Lead on!

Raymond Bass, a longtime high school official, has taught leadership skills at the university and corporate levels. He lives in Pagosa Springs, Colo.