Invest: Why Effective Leaders Prioritize Communication

In April 2010, British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people and leaving an oil gusher open for 87 days, resulting in the largest environmental disaster in US history. BP’s fines and expenses to date are upwards of $20 billion, and the Gulf Coast ecosystem still hasn’t recovered a half decade later. The official report of the resulting national commission said that the disaster could have been avoided with “better communication within and between BP and its contractors.”In March 2014, the Golden State Warriors flew up to Canada to play the Toronto Raptors. Forward-center Jermaine O’Neal couldn’t make it into the country, though, because he didn’t have his passport.Warriors coach Mark Jackson says that there was a misunderstanding. “We thought we had it.”“Communication” is a buzzword nowadays, the kind of tired cliche that you hear from slick motivational speakers or on late night relationship-advice talk radio, and, as with all cliches, it’s easy to pay lip service to it and nothing more. This is the paradox of all things that are really, truly important: The more everyone is talking about them, the easier they are to ignore, because someone else—everyone else—is probably taking care of it, right?But effective leaders don’t pay lip service. Effective leaders don’t expect “someone else” to take care of it. Effective leaders don’t get caught up in the cliche buzzword game and fail to act.Leaders of athletics programs know better than anyone how difficult it can be to get their student-athletes on the same page and moving in the same direction, especially considering the communication gap between millennials and virtually everyone else. But the most effective leaders all have one thing in common. They look at communication in the same way they look at the other moving parts of their organization: as a conscious investment.MAKING BIG INVESTMENTSAs a leader of an athletics organization, you’re probably already actively focused on getting the right people, investing untold resources in recruiting the best players: The average recruitment spending for Division I-A athletic departments, for example, was $978,498 in 2013. That’s right around a million dollars per year.The numbers get bigger, too. The average spending on Division I-A coaches’ salaries in the same time period was $10,516,185, according to the Knight Commission. Combined with the recruiting budget, that’s about $11.5 million invested in people, to say nothing of the time and talent successful teams are investing in getting the right men and women into the right places.And the “right places” aren’t cheap, either. Ohio State University is in the middle of renovating its football stadium to the tune of $194 million; to the northwest, the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium got a similar facelift for $250 million. Facilities are a hot topic in collegiate sports: A 2014 survey showed that even though “nearly 95 percent of ADs are concerned about the funding of their programs,” 84 percent of them still plan on making significant investments in facilities improvements in the next five years.It’s unlikely that any of these numbers surprise you. They’re all standard expenses in collegiate sports, and there isn’t a budget spreadsheet in the world that doesn’t include them as an annual line item. But if your people aren’t working together effectively, if you can’t tap into your human resources at the drop of a hat, if not everyone is much are those investments in people and facilities really worthTHE (BLUE) DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILSA story of a big return on serious investments, though, comes from the changes Duke started making almost ten years ago. Duke Football made a big investment in people when it brought on David Cutcliffe as head coach in December of 2007, and Cutcliffe’s philosophy has changed the way Duke spends its time, talent, and resources. He raised some eyebrows in January 2008 when he challenged the squad to lose a total of 1000 pounds, with very clear messaging: “We’re not going to have a fat football team, and we’re a fat football team right now.”His investment in athletic conditioning was matched by an investment in recruiting that brought Duke the best recruiting class of the past five years in 2015. And Duke is also investing in infrastructure with a project to renovate Wallace Wade Stadium.But, according to Cutcliffe, a big part of Duke’s newfound success in football (in 2012, he led the Blue Devils to their first bowl appearance since 1995) is the team’s focus on communication and organization, which Duke started investing in back in 2006. Duke began to embrace new technology and realign its communication strategy with an eye toward a new generation of student-athletes.And it’s working. Proper communication solves a lot of the little logistical problems athletes run into every day: showing up on time for study hall, remembering when and where a medical appointment is, getting on the bus before it leaves on Saturday morning. “I think young people respond much better to being on time and being where they’re supposed to be when you do a great job of keeps them in the narrow lane of doing the little things well,” says Coach Cutcliffe.Cutcliffe also recognizes how communication is an integral part of all the other investments the team has to make. After you invest so much to get the best coaches, players, and facilities, he says, “the biggest thing is keeping those people on task and pointed in the right direction.”And in regard to their success on the field? He says, “I think one of the things you do is surround yourself with great people and you have great organization, and that’s how you win in college football.”COMMUNICATING INTENTIONALLYHow much time and talent have you invested in examining the way your team communicates on and off the field? Where’s the budget line item that accounts for making sure all of your people are in the right places at the right time? Are you talking to your contractors? Do you have all the passports?About the Author: As Founder and President, former Duke Football player Zach Maurides has revolutionized communication and information sharing for athletic organizations across the country. What began as Maurides’ class project during his sophomore year at Duke University in 2004 has become the industry leader with an impressive list over 800 current clients.

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