Pat Summitt’s Legendary Leadership Impact

Ever since I heard the news of Pat Summitt’s passing, I have been enthralled in the celebration of her life and legacy.  She is perhaps best known for having built a dynasty in a sport where teamwork is paramount.  Eight national titles and the most successful coach in NCAA Division I basketball history. What she accomplished at the University of Tennessee is the kind of achievement under pressure that all teams in athletics and business desire.
And she did this across generations, including today’s millennials who challenge traditional expectations of discipline and accountability.  She knew how to efficiently refocus energy to avoid the multiple distractions that suck momentum from teams.

Pat Summitt was more than a coach, more than a celebrity, more than a pioneer in the advancement of women’s sports.  She was a transformational leader.  

Here are a few nuggets from “Sum it Up” for anyone in leadership and team building:

Empower your players.  “I can’t score for you, or get a rebound for you, I can only give you the information to be successful,” she told her team.  Summit taught her players to make good independent judgments and that required her to give up being in control of everything and everyone.

Give genuine feedback.  Summitt observed when her players did not hear feedback, they assumed the silence meant they were underperforming or worthless. She like many leaders would struggle finding the balance between too much praise and its effectiveness.  Pat created a feedback system that improved communication for all.

Use failure as a motivator and grow.  “Great teams explain their failure; they don’t excuse it,” she writes.  “When you explain a loss aloud, it’s no longer a tormenting mystery.” Confronting problems in the open, Summitt-style, reduced misunderstandings and created trust.  

Build trust through fairness.  To mold a group of players with varied levels of emotional maturity, she did not treat them all the same, but rather treated them all fairly.  The single most important principle of teaching for Summitt:  “They don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.”

There is no one archetype of leadership.  There is no one proven mold of a successful leader.  But there is one undeniable truth — You are only a true leader if you practice what you preach.

That’s exactly Pat Summitt.

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