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4 Essential Reads On Leadership For Life After Sports

See the kill.

No, this is not the beginning of a murder mystery novel, but it was the beginning of my journey to leadership.

Many athletes talk about the great coaches they had, but Coach N wasn’t just a volleyball coach, she was a leader. People, like my 14-year-old self, hung on every word she said. She knew something that was so much more important than my approach to the net, the speed of my arm swing or my vertical leap. She knew how to get me to see the result and make me feel it before I ever touched the volleyball.

And it worked. We were the first team from our high school to make it to the playoffs in over 30 years because we believed we would long before we played a match.

I think about those visualization sessions on the fieldhouse stage, with the curtains drawn and our eyes closed, often in my career. We knew where we were going, and what could be more important in sports, and in life, than vision?

I’m long past my college playing days now, but as with any competitive athlete, I’ve taken so much of that time into my daily life, including the need for a clear vision and to constantly learn and grow. So today, I wanted to share 4 books that have continued to shape me as an executive and a leader.


1. StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Donald Clifton

This had to be first on my list given I talk about it almost daily – just ask my team! This assessment identifies your top five strengths and then how to use them in life and work. Knowing who I am as a person helps me engage with and lead my team in a more intentional way.

I’ll let you in on a secret, I used to drive my AAU basketball coach crazy. He would tell us what play he wanted us to run and before he could finish his sentence, there I was asking why. Well, it turns out my number one strength is Context, understanding the how and why to inform future decisions. Guess all those questions were good for something after all!


2. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

When I read this book with all the women at my company several years back, it was amazing to hear all the takeaways and see the growth we all achieved by learning how to find our voice in the conversation and a seat at the table.

For anyone who is new to the working world or who aspires to be in a leadership position, my advice is to raise your hand early and often. I can’t count the number of times I said yes to something I was barely qualified to do and how many times I’ve looked back and been grateful for my courage in that moment, even if I was totally faking it.


3. The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins

It’s easy to think about your role and what you will do when you start in a new position. This book really challenged me to think about the culture and direction of the organization so I could find my best fit and where I could add the most value with my new role.

Ask leadership what is working well today. Ask about the one problem area they would most like to improve or change. Now go build a 90-day plan to help solve problems and provide a new perspective. Leaders find a way to add value in weeks, not months.


4. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Trust and vulnerability aren’t the words you usually think of in a work setting, but Lencioni demonstrates why they actually matter the most. Have you worked with the person who takes no responsibility for their actions (or lack thereof)? The person who is terrified to make a decision? The person who is in the wrong role? How the leadership team handles conflict has a direct impact on the success of the company.

As a point guard, it was my responsibility to make sure the team knew the situation and was running the plays to perfection. And if we weren’t getting it right, I was the first one to call it out and help the team focus. The workplace is no different, you can’t run different plays and expect a successful outcome.

We lost Coach N several years ago, very unexpectedly, to a brain aneurysm. It was devastating to think of all the youth who missed out on the opportunity to be impacted by her love of life and sport. Yet in that moment of sadness, a smile spread across my face because the lessons she taught us live on in me and the thousands of people who were fortunate to know her. And that is what fuels me in sport, in life and in my career.

Thanks, Coach, for teaching me to lead.