Start with Heart

In preparing for an upcoming project that focuses on leadership, current safe sport practices, and management by values, I read Scaling Leadership by R. Anderson and W. Adams. The authors have spent their life’s work developing tools that are scientifically validated and that support a more humanistic approach to managing people. What struck me in reviewing the book was how much the authors’ philosophies and teachings mirrored my own beliefs. Much of the wisdom that inspired their work has come from many of the same teachings that have inspired me including Ken Wilber, Carl Jung, Robert Keagan Otto Scharmer, Carol Gilligan, Daniel Coleman, to name but a few. Scaling Leadership separates leaders into three levels from Reactive to Creative to Integral leaders and distinguishes a leader’s conscious capacity to nurture deep relationships, to show up ‘radically human’, to be guided towards the big picture, and to achieve purposefully. These four quadrants are the cornerstone of our work as Integral Sport Coaches. As the SLSG continues to scale impact in support of the sport sector, we offer that that this complex world requires leaders to trust their gut, increase their intention, and be guided by their core values.

As someone who likes to learn from others, I wanted to chat with a humanistic and well-respected leader about what it means to be a world-leading organization, so I tracked down one of my mentors to explore the topic. Sue Hylland, the Athletic Director of the University of Ottawa, was kind enough to share her insights with me. While I had not anticipated connecting our conversation to Integral Leadership, Sue was sharing perspectives and stories that reflected each of the 10 strengths the authors say are mission critical to lead in the 21st Century.

As you look to scale impact in your own world, recognize that many of our current approaches to leadership may not be the ones needed to lead in an increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world.

Strength 1: Start with heart – nurture strong people skills and enhance your interpersonal capacity. “No one cares what you know, until they know how much you care,” shares Sue. Stated simply, Sue cares. She cares about doing meaningful work, she cares about others, and she cares about making a positive impact. Sue has built her career on ensuring high trust relationships with everyone she works with.

Strength 2: Listen generously – be attentive and present when people share their views. When asked about how she knows that the student athletes and her staff feel the Department is doing good work, she laughs and shares “… because we ask. We do surveys annually to ensure that athletes are feeling safe and supported and we use this feedback to advance our game. For Staff, I believe in empowering them to get the job done by inviting them to own what they want to do. It’s amazing to see flourish when you do this.”

Strength 3: Build unity – engage others in building strong teams through consensus and respectful engagement. Sue is a humble leader that is first to share that she is benefitting from the foundational work that other leaders have cultivated prior to her tenure. “I am grateful to the leaders that put the system and structures in place so I can focus more on the things that come naturally to me … building people up.”

Strength 4: Lead by example – don’t ask others to do what you don’t believe in or won’t stand up for. Sue walks the talk with respect to living and leading with values. She was the first Athletic Director to champion the True Sport Principles and did the same when she was the CEO of the Canada Games Council. “Living in accordance with my values just comes easy to me. It would be so hard not to. Why waste that effort? I am who I am and I’ve been most successful, and happiest, when I make decisions in a manner that reflects my values.” This management by values philosophy is what is needed to combat some of the bigger issues affecting sport today.

Strength 5: Begin with the end in mind – communicate a compelling vision that ignites enthusiasm and fosters alignment. While Sue is quick to point out that much of the vision was carved out for her by her predecessors, she offers a practical, adaptable approach to fulfilling the Department’s mission. “Things are moving fast and some days, it’s hard to know if what we are doing daily is making a difference. Then all I have to do is remember why we are here … to ensure the kids have a safe and enjoyable athletic experience while they are with us, then all the decisions become easy.” Staying true to this mindset and ensuring the culture is aligning with values is part of what makes Sue so special.

Strength 6: Open and welcoming – invite people into your life by being approachable and accessible. One of Sue’s endearing qualities is her ‘can do’, positive attitude that easily explains why so many people enjoy working with, and alongside her. You never feel that you work for Sue – she makes you feel instantly valued and in so doing, inspires you to go above and beyond. She is humanistic to the core and it’s one of the greatest traits that I so appreciate about this amazing woman and leader.

Strength 7: Fire in the belly – Demonstrate your commitment to the cause by speaking with passion about what matters most. Sue is passionate about sport and making it better. She cares about ensuring that it is safe, inclusive, and fair. Her career spans the Olympic Movement to Canadian Women and Sport and then to the Canada Games Council where a quality experience for all involved mattered greatly to her. Sue has the uncanny gift of being able to address ‘hot topics’ in a way that has people listening. She disarms people by speaking truth and letting them know she’s open to different viewpoints.

Strength 8: Commit to developing others – Create a developmental organization where people know that they can learn, grow, and self-actualize through mentoring, coaching, career planning and ongoing learning experiences. It’s not surprising to me that Sue decided to cap off her impressive career within a University setting. “Each day is like being at the Olympic Games. There’s always a fire to put out and something exciting to look forward to, which keeps me humble.” Sue’s commitment to elevate others means she looks for teachable moments, learning opportunities, and ways to help her people grow.

Strength 9: Empower others – Share leadership opportunities and intentionally seek out those whose views are different than your own. Learn from mistakes and trust in others. When things are good, being a leader is simple. But what about when things aren’t so easy? “Don’t let one ‘Ah Sh!t’ ruin a thousand ‘atta boys’. We have to plan for people to mess up. It’s much more about how we learn from the mistakes that speaks to our leadership style.” Sue is speaking to the important principle of when we mess up, we fess up, then we promise to make it right.

Strength 10: Positive attitude – Have an optimistic attitude that goes viral. Anyone who knows Sue knows that being in her presence means you leave feeling hopeful, uplifted and inspired. It’s impossible not to. She has a way of making your biggest problems feel surmountable. Having worked with Sue at multiple Olympic and Pan American Games, I’ve seen her in action enough times to know that she is as authentic as they come. And people can sense that about their leaders.

As you look to return to sport in a holistic manner, manage conflict more intentionally, challenge your assumptions, expand your leadership horizons, or consider systemic imperatives, please know that the team at the SLSG is here to support you. Please let me know your thoughts on the blog by connecting with me at DBL@sportlaw.ca or by phone at 613.591.1246.

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