Lead people, not tasks.

Sport has played a massive part in my life. There are photos of me learning to walk with a hockey stick in my hand and a ball at my feet. I am passionate about learning life skills and leadership skills through participating in sport. So, watching the poor ethical judgment by leaders at the Essendon football club, along with the lack of ownership of their actions by individuals at the club, during the dietary supplement program, questions the morality of leaders in sport. Add to this examples of self centred behaviours in cricket, such as the record seeking junior Indian coach who allowed a batsman to score 1000 runs after dismissing the opposition for 31, and you understand how the lessons learned in sport are sometimes detrimental to the development of good personal values.


So I wanted to highlight a positive lesson from someone in sport I have learnt from for many years now. His philosophy is discussed in some of my leadership sessions. Coach Brad Stevens is a professional basketball coach in the USA. He has coached at the highest College level (NCAA Division 1) and is now the coach of one of the most famous NBA franchises in basketball history, the Boston Celtics. An article popped up on my facebook over the holidays about Coach Stevens and his behavior towards a past player who was in the final stages of cancer.


The article (Coach Stevens) very succinctly states that Coach Stevens missed coaching an NBA game to go and visit Andrew Smith, a past college player, in hospital. Andrew was in the final stages in his battle with cancer and Coach Stevens travelled across the country to say good-bye in person. In the highly money driven world of professional sport, especially in the USA, this behavior goes against the regular self-centred decision making and poor ethical choices one expects. The decision to leave the team, put higher priority on a person outside the team, and travel across the country to see the sick person hasn’t been applauded by the media!!! Yet this action displays the values, the morals, and the leadership that society seeks from our sporting role models.


Coach Stevens placed his personal relationship with Andrew, who was dying, ahead of everything else and said right now nothing else is as important as this person, not even the team I coach!!!

“Stevens realized being with Smith was more important than Thursday night’s game against the Bulls.”

“There are just some things in life that take priority over a game, even if you are getting paid to be with the team.”

The message from Coach Stevens is very simple and clear. The most important thing in any moment in life is the person you are dealing with. He preached this back in College and has taken this same mentality into the hyped up business of professional sport. His leadership style has always centred around working with people and placing that relationship front and centre. His selfless actions, of placing Andrew at a higher priority than his Celtics team, speak louder than any words. Great leaders have an innate ability to connect with people they lead, because they actually care about them, they sacrifice for them.


What can teachers and student leaders learn from Coach Stevens in preparation for the 2016 school year? Prioritise your relationships with others. Lead the person, not the task. This is easy to do when we are fresh and the year is starting. Coach Stevens shows us that even when life is busy, when you are right in the middle of a job and you are pushed for results, always put the relationship first. If you do this then you will have success as a leader.


This is going to be a priority for me this year. By focusing on the individual and committing to developing a stronger personal understanding of their life, hopefully I will have a more positive influence on them, which will translate into greater success for the team. I would like to challenge those students heading into Year 12 to take on this same philosophy. Shift your focus from “what will I achieve” to “what will I achieve and with who?” Don’t start the year being task driven. Start the new year getting to know each and everyone of your team. Something I have learned from sport is success is great, but when you share it with others the feeling is multiplied exponentially.


I wish the teachers and students all the very best of luck as we start the new school year.