What an NFL Coach Can Teach High School Administrators

Guest post by Jay R. Townsend

What do NFL coaches and high school administrators have in common? Certainly not the pay or the publicity. But they both build people and teams. And you can learn a lot about how to build a winning school team from former NFL head coach Tony Dungy. I have been a huge fan of Dungy’s leadership style, and the lessons that I have learned from his book The Mentor Leader have helped me design a strong playbook for my students and staff.

Here are a few leadership lessons from Tony Dungy that school administrators can follow to get the best out of their colleagues, teachers, and students:

It’s Not About Me

Dungy epitomizes a servant leader, or what he calls a “mentor leader.” He teaches aspiring leaders to remember the simple mantra: “It’s not about me.” I love how he puts it: “Truly serving others requires putting ourselves and our desires aside while looking for ways and opportunities to do what is best for others.” Instead of measuring my professional progress based on awards, rankings, and outcomes, I define overall success by what I do to make others better. Did the new student I helped connect to the drama club find a friend? Has the teacher who came to me for advice found instructional strategies to better reach her at-risk students? Are the parents who met with me satisfied with the plan we put in place to address their concerns about college ACT preparation? The most important thing I do as an administrator is to put people first.

Mentoring Is Leading

Another aspect that Dungy stresses is the importance of a leader being a mentor. Too often, people follow a “leader” because that person is in charge or in a position of authority. But forcing others to follow your vision or playing on people’s fear rarely leads to lasting success. In contrast, a mentor leader works with others and sets a strong example by showing them how to do something rather than telling them what to do. Dungy says, “We often mirror what we see.” If I want my students to speak to one another in a positive, respectful way, I have to be the model of positive, respectful speech. Leading through mentoring has allowed me to build relationships with my students, colleagues, and staff that have helped to unify our school team.

Be a Person of Influence

Dungy also reminds us to remember that the influence or impact you have on an individual can or will have an impact on that person throughout that individual’s life. Taken to the next level, that means your impact could carry on for generations. That is a crazy, awesome feeling. So, what can we do about it? Be the difference maker! Be the individual that has that positive influence on everybody around you. Do things out of your comfort zone. Help somebody. Take time for somebody. Be positive and utilize “teachable moments” during those times that individuals push your buttons. The influence we have on today’s youth is the influence we have on future generations.

Servant leadership starts with focusing on others and not on yourself. How could you apply these lessons to your own leadership development? Think of three things you can do this week to put others before yourself and lead them by “showing how” instead of “telling what to do. 

Jay Townsend has been the K–12 Principal at Fairmount Public School in Fairmount, ND, for the past nine years. He is the 2016 North Dakota Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @Tri_StateTigers.

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