Think about the best boss you’ve ever had. What made him or her so effective in that role? Was it the way he or she led your specific unit? Was it his or her ability to form personal relationships with employees? Was it a communication style that clicked for you?
A good leader for one person might be completely ineffective for someone else. Different styles fit for different periods in time as well.
In looking for Missouri’s next athletic director, it’s become apparent University of Missouri System President Mun Choi and the Athletic Director search committee were searching for an individual who could modernize Mizzou’s athletic department, someone who would fit this specific time period at this specific university.
The committee was convinced early in its search that former UNLV Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois was the right person for this job.
You might have heard collegiate athletics are at a bit of a crossroads. Conference realignment is back. College athletes, for the first time in history, are permitted to make money off their name, image and likeness. This pandemic has changed spending habits, which could have a significant impact on ticket sales.
The hope is Reed-Francois can guide Missouri through these uncertain times.
“(Reed-Francois) has the vision, the experience and the tough-mindedness that we need,” Choi said at Reed-Francois’ introductory press conference. “She’s going to be making some deep but necessary changes. Business as usual goes out the window with our new Athletic Director. She’s going to bring that culture of winning back to Mizzou.”
It remains to be seen what those changes will include. Reed-Francois made it clear Wednesday she plans to speak with those currently within the athletic department about what is and what is not working before making such drastic changes.
That team strategy seems to be a critical component of her vision for the department as a whole.
“We’re going to be the hardest working athletic department in the entire country,” Reed-Francois said at her introductory press conference. “We’re going to be the most innovative. But we’re also going to be the best team. There’s something so powerful about a group of committed people all rowing in that same direction trying to achieve those championships. And when you hit that, you have a championship culture.”
To put it simply, Reed-Francois won the press conference. How much value does one place on such a thing? Very little. But it’s not hard to see why she’s been held in such high regard. She clearly has a vision for how she wants the department to be run.
Reed-Francois’ communication style is direct, and her passion for the work she does is apparent.
But judging any leader based on a press conference performance can be a mindless exercise. Much of an athletic director’s job is done behind the scenes, collaborating with those in his or her department. That’s something which has reportedly been missing at Missouri. That sense of inclusion is important.
How does the athletic director construct an environment in which the social media director feels comfortable taking chances? Can the video department push the limits? Do the players feel like their voices are being heard? Is the game day operations department coming up with every idea possible to put together a product worth Mizzou fans attending? Are the coaches getting what they need? Are fans feeling like they are part of whatever new traditions are developed?
Hiring and firing coaches is the part of the athletic director’s job we spend the most time evaluating. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as what will be on Reed-Francois’ plate at Mizzou.
The Tigers clearly felt a need to shift the culture within the athletic department. Only time will tell if Reed-Francois is the right person to lead that shift, but her introductory press conference left plenty of reasons for optimism. The real work is only just beginning.