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Leadership Behaviors: What Makes an Effective and Responsible Leader?

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  • Pages: 13
  • Word count: 3125
  • Category: Regret

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The leadership roles that our system of higher education possesses must be identified with behaviors that have positive influences on the relationships between their colleagues, as well as the behaviors that influence effectiveness and the image of that institution. The purpose of this investigation is to dive into the many strengths and weaknesses in the highest role of athletics at the collegiate level; the Athletic Director. As part of my investigation, I have examined the way relationships in leadership have on success and have focused in on the leadership attributes that are most valuable and what makes an effective and responsible leader.

Through this investigation, I quickly learned the importance of culture and how yet many of these leaders feel they lack creativity at times, that the reinforcing of the values of the institution and the importance of the student-athlete overall experience translates to more success for their program. These great leaders also reiterated the importance of having a team around them who have the same visions, the motivational level they possess, and are self-driven in every aspect of their life. The three leaders that I have chosen to do my investigation on are all Athletic Directors, and all three of them coming from different backgrounds and serving at institutions with many different political expectations and have many different goals for themselves both personally and the goals for their program. As the great Vince Lombardi said, “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal which is worthwhile.”

One question that I believe has to be addressed, not just with the Athletic Directors or any leaders in higher education, but all leaders in our great country is are we comfortable being held directly accountable to someone higher up than your position, even when things go wrong. That is one of the main questions I attacked first in my investigation.

Interview One:

  •  Name- Felix Hinojosa
  • Position-Director of Athletics
  • Institution-El Paso Community College

The first leader that I want to talk about is Felix Hinojosa, the Director of Athletics at the El Paso Community College. Felix Hinojosa is in his 6th year at EPCC and has had many successes in his short time, but no success bigger than the development of great student athletes and athletic facilities. When I asked this first question to Hinojosa about being held accountable, he brought up this example as something that he wasn’t “the leader” parse, but was one of the influential pieces behind the success of the athletic programs. “The most difficult part of this job is demonstrating patience. I was so used to having a lot of control with my previous job, but I knew how important this one was, and because of that I had to be open to a lot of people’s different innovative ideas.” The main word that stuck out to me was patience. It is something that I definitely want to improve in my own leadership qualities, yet it is also something that someone with years of experience on myself still wrestles with daily. He went into more detail on how he now had to respond to the President, the board of trustees, the City of El Paso, and even the State of Texas.

Felix Hinojosa has been extremely successful in his career of higher education. Before taking the position of Director of Athletics in 2012 at EPCC, he spent 20 years as the associate athletic director for events, operations, and sports programs at the El Paso Independent School district. He talked about the growth he was a part of a nationally recognized program, compared to the growth he has been working towards at a smaller institution. “At EPISD, we were under so much pressure at times to always be the best and I mean the very best second to none. At EPCC, we have been able to set more long-term goals in place to where over a period of time we can be recognized in everything that we do with the likes of the institutions with more students, athletic history, and prestige.” This belief of instilling long-term goals and understanding what they are trying to accomplish reminds me of Chapter 11 that talks about knowing your political arena.

If Hinojosa at EPCC wanted to compare every little goal and detail to what they had at the EPISD, then they in many ways will be coming up short of those goals, instilling a lack of vision amongst his co-workers, and potentially going off a budget that isn’t realistic for a smaller program. For example, in late November, the University of El Paso has fired their Athletic Director. They are at the level of athletics where (as a whole) have to win now or else your job will be in jeopardy. At a smaller institution, like EPCC, the “goals” that are set for the program are more about progress. “We set very high goals, both athletically, academically, and in personal development, yet if we don’t achieve those goals, we want to be developing and evolving every single season. That is ultimately how I (Hinojosa) measure our program. “

Interview Two:

  • Name- Bobby Mesker
  • Position-Director of Athletics
  • Institution-Sul Ross State University

The second leader that I interviewed for my investigation is Bobby Mesker, Director of Athletics at Sul Ross State University. How he differs from Hinojoso is that he is still relatively young in both age and overall experience. Yet he has made tremendous strides. Since 2011, the SRS baseball program has finished 5 out of those 6 seasons as a top 30 program in the nation for Division three baseball. The remaining sports have seen tremendous success at the Division three level, such as Women’s soccer making the postseason every year under Muse, and the Men’s basketball team finishing top 10 in the nation in 2015. The main goal that SSU focuses in on is for their program to be a “Team First program”, where the goal for each student-athlete to grow with their teammates and ultimately their leadership qualities. I asked the same question to lead off my interview with Mesker and he said “At SSU, my success is strictly dictated on our student-athletes are a great example for our entire University.

Since we are a small University, our standards are held extremely high meaning our character, respect, attitudes, and values have to be a daily focus, even more so than the athletic ability. If we are very successful on the field, yet not meeting those standards off the field, then I have not achieved my job for what the University expects of me, and it does all fall back to me. Combine that with the success that the baseball program and other programs have done to evolve this University to a national power with top of the line facilities, you cannot get a better overall experience for a student-athlete. “ It is remarkable to have friends that have gone through this process as a student-athlete at this University. “The great ones by in to whatever they are great at and demonstrate those traits daily” (Collins 2001)

The frame that Mesker was able to apply to his work is obviously a symbolic frame, yet he said it was not always like that. “When I took over as AD, I wanted to have everything perfectly planned out and 100% structured, regarding goals and how I wanted things to flow. As I have matured and gained more experience, I have learned how the importance of focusing on the individual, culture, and the inspiration we all have is the way I now want things to run.” It was very neat to learn this, as he has had to evolve as a leader both with time and success and he still feels that he is constantly changing and growing as a leader. I next asked Mesker why he feels the program has reached new heights and why he has been successful. He attributed all of his success to those who are his “right hand men” and those who have paved the way before him. This makes me reflect back to the human resource frame and even says, “Our most important asset is our people. Organizations exploit people-chew them up and then spit them back out.” (Bolman 2013) He also had comments about how everyone within the program is a tight niched family. I reflect back in part 3 of our book “it increases the likelihood that employees will think for the longer term and avoid impetuous, shortsighted decisions.” (Bolman 2013)

I asked Mesker what has been important for his program when talking goal setting. I wanted to know exactly how they set goals and how structured their goals are. “We want to focus in on the decisions that we have made that have made this program a better place for our student athletes. If we focus in on the decisions we might regret or wish that we had over, then it would stay in the thought process as bigger and bigger decisions are presented. For example, if I choose to make a coaching change and the new coach comes in and is not as successful, does it benefit me or others around me to dwell on the decision I made, or focus on the future with this current coach and how I can do everything in my power to help him or her better.”

Interview Three:

  • Name- TC Nusser
  • Position- Athletic Director
  • Institution- Luna Community College

The last leader that I interviewed is somebody who has had a tough job and had success in a small town. TC Nusser was the first coach and athletic director I talked to about getting into coaching and getting my masters. This leader has held many different hats in the past 5 years. TC Nusser currently serves as Athletic Director and head baseball coach at Luna Community College. In 2013, Nusser was the Head Baseball Coach and Athletic Director at Portales High in New Mexico and in 2015 received the opportunity to step out of high school coaching and into a role as a higher education leader.

The first obvious question I wanted to ask him was how he manages to have so much on his plate being the AD at a much bigger institution and coaches and has a wife and two kids and make it all work on a daily basis. “My daily goal first off is to see everything has a whole. With how much I do have on my plate, it is vital for me to be proficient in my organizational side of my preparation. But in the long run, it is trusting all of the work that I have put in and to see each task at hand as a whole and see how it will benefit in the long and short term and then just work to the best of my ability.” Nusser mentions “seeing everything as a whole” I think back to the multi-frame approach that was in the last section of our book. I learned through Dr. Stewart that approaching something and only looking at one part of an issue or a solution serves no purpose unless you are looking at the entire picture and establishing a vision. Nusser to me has always been a leader who is just the ultimate grinder. He is a small town guy who for 9 years was at a small town High school with very little success.

After his most successful season at Portales High, things seemed to be turning in the right direction. Yet, something that was completely out of his control was that the school fell on hard times economically. This was a hard time for TC Nusser, in large part because he just had his first kid and he was coming off of a very successful season. “This was a very challenging time for me and my family, yet it was a time that we needed to bond even more as a family, trust in the Lord’s plan, and have the confidence and patience that there are even better times ahead of us.”

Bolman described some of the main emphasis of reframing as “patience, clarity, and flexibility.” (2013). These are all attributes that Nusser has had to demonstrate over his very successful career in higher education and collegiate athletics. Yet I think what has been so challenging for leaders, especially us younger leaders aspiring to climb the ranks in higher education and collegiate athletics is understanding that there is not one certain path to follow, and even the times when the path might be the clearest still might not work out the way that we intend. The book in the very first section says that there are multiple ways that might not seem right at all, but they can all lead to the best outcome.

To concise with the troubles of when things went very south for Nusser , I also asked him how he handles adversity within the work place. “The key for me is to not blame things on other people, but instead to take initiative myself that I was not good enough and strive to better my short comings, which ultimately trickle down through me to our entire staff. I see that is how our President works with me and therefore I attempt to duplicate those actions.” We have learned all of our lives growing up to take ownership for our mistakes, but how we have matured and the new generation that we live in is always somebody else’s fault and there is an excuse for everything.

The number one thing I learned from Nusser is that when you are viewed as a leader, no matter what the situation, when things go wrong it is important to take ownership to being either the entire problem or a piece of the problem. If you are in a role of high leadership and you point the finger elsewhere, then that gets your organization no closer to solving the problems at hand. For me, if I find excuses within one of our baseball games (blame umpires, weather, other coaches, or players) then the energy level and the culture, which once again is the most vital part of our program will take a dramatic step in the wrong direction. Even the great Walt Disney said “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

“Minimize the expression of negative feelings and being rational” (Bolman 2013 pg.165) That is exactly what Dr. Stewart, as well as these other two leaders have demonstrated in such a proficient way is that they are walking examples of positivity and productive energy. Just having an interview with these three men, I could feel the energy and pride that they have obtained with their roles in higher education and collegiate athletics. All of these leaders have Master’s degrees in Adult Education, with TC Nusser obtaining his doctorate from University of New Mexico in Athletic Administration in Secondary Education. These men have a commitment to being innovative. All three of these programs share a similarity with the fact that they have been a part of the most successful times in the programs history. (EPCC 8 conference championships in last 3 years, SRS 10 conference championships in last 3 years, including baseball to Super Regionals, Luna CC advancing to Regional Finals and 3 conference championships over last 7 years).

These are all examples of the highest success that these leaders have achieved for their program, yet now the difficult part for them is going to be able to sustain that success. I asked all three of these leaders about how they handle a dramatic change in success and how to sustain that. “Stay true to our core values and stay the same course of action” (Hinojoso) “Continue to over-emphasize what our program stands for and continue to strive towards a certain goal daily” (Mesker) “At a small junior college, with the success we have obtained it is imperative to continue to obtain the positive culture and if that is constantly sustained within all of our athletics, then skies the limit.” (TC Nusser)

All of these responses have one thing in common. Responsible. These leaders take on the challenges and do not shy away from them and they are fearless in pursuing excellence. What makes a responsible and effective leader is what this investigation was all about. I feel to have gained a much coherent understanding of what that does look like through these three Athletic Directors. I have learned that taking pride in every single aspect of leadership is how you continue to grow as a leader. I have learned the importance of balancing your social and family life with the work life; because if things are not stable outside of the work place, things will trickle in to your organization and affect those around you. I have learned that the relationships with your co-workers and establishing a philosophy.

This is different from setting goals, but when you establish the specific philosophy that your co-workers need to abide by, then that keeps everyone on the same path naturally and guides them towards the same goal. As we learned in Chapter 8 “groups will always operate at two levels task and process” (Bolman 2013) The tasks that these great leaders have shown me are the immediate character building goals and being great at the little things that many people might not appreciate. Then, the process is more of the why we are working to achieve these goals, and not just why but also the when. A clear “picture” of what needs to take place during this process has to be transparent for all those involved.

This will be an investigation that I will hold close to me as I continue to grow as a leader. These will be men that I continue to reach out to in my life and career to see how their leadership behaviors have changed and remained the same. I will carry out the same confidence, responsibility, and patience that they perceive in everything they do. My goal, at some point in my career, is to be where these men are. I have learned that there is no cut and dry path to get there, but the leadership behaviors that they have demonstrated over a long and successful career is what has made them effective leaders. As I conclude this investigation, the true leader that we all need in our life can be best defined by the words of Jocko Willink “Implementing extreme ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team.”

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