When one thinks about leaders in sports, their mind almost instantly settles on the coach, or maybe even the team captain. However, in college and high school athletics, the true leader of a team and/or a group of teams can be found in the school’s athletic director (AD). According the website, learn.org, AD’s are defined as “administrators who supervise and oversee athletic programs at a college, high school or private institution. They are responsible for budgeting, promotion, and scheduling for sports teams. An AD may coordinate with student academic departments, though they rarely work directly with athletes. Instead, they act as athletic managers, organizing transportation, supervising coaches, and guiding sports teams to success indirectly. They are charged with the task of hiring and firing coaches, as well as other athletic staffers in their organization.” In psychology terms, athletic directors fit the academic definition of a leader. They are “individuals who influence a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (Northouse, 2016, p.6).
Focusing in on the relationship between AD and coach is where we see the leadership styles of AD’s, especially the trait approach, weigh heavily on the success of the coaches, and in turn, the entire program. Utilizing the “five major leadership traits” described in Northouse (2016, p.23) of intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity, and sociability, we can attribute these traits to the success of the leader of an athletic program. The trait approach to leadership has been studied for decades, beginning in the early 20th century, and is “one of the first systematic attempts to study leadership” (Northouse, 2016, p.19) In the interest of narrowing the emphasis for this post, we will look at the combination of intelligence and sociability, and how they are key traits in a successful AD.
Social intelligence is a relatively new area of study in the history of leadership trait theory and is part of the larger area of emotional intelligence research (PSU, WC, 2020, L2). According to the lesson commentary (PSU, WC, L2), social intelligence is comprised of two factors:
- Social awareness, which is basically being able to be empathetic to others situations.
- Social facility, which is the ability to act on that empathy in ways that change the situation for the better.
A recent study by Robinson et al (2019) has described social intelligence as “political skill”, specifically in the area of an athletic director’s leadership skills. The study went on to describe the impact of political skill and the influence that it had on leader influence. Furthermore, the researchers evaluated how the effectiveness of the leader, lead to job satisfaction amongst the followers (coaches), as well as, the overall affect this had on the program. The researchers were able to reach a conclusion by interviewing hundreds of AD’s across the United States and having them complete a Political Skill Inventory as part of a Qualtrics survey. The corresponding coaches of the AD respondents were then given a survey to evaluate effectiveness of their leaders. They answered based on a scale system regarding items such as job satisfaction and affective organizational commitment (Robinson et al, 2019). Robinson was able to accurately conclude that political skill or social intelligence has a direct correlation to effective leadership based on job satisfaction and the positive affect this has on the followers (2019). A diagram of this relationship can be seen here:
In conclusion, studies like the one above and the others through the history of leadership theory have proven that there is more to being successful leader than being “born” with the correct traits to lead. There is a multi-pronged approach involving intelligence (social and emotional), as well as, traits such sociability and extraversion (Northouse, 2016). Although some traits may be inherent, it is important to remember that some traits can be trained further for success.
Northouse, Peter G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2020). PSYCH 485 Lesson 2: Trait Approach. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2040131/modules/items/28001674.
Robinson, G. M., Magnusen, M., & Kim, J. W. (2019). The socially effective leader: Exploring the relationship between athletic director political skill and coach commitment and job satisfaction. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 14(2), 197-204. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1177/1747954119834118.
Website- Learn.org: https://learn.org/articles/What_is_an_Athletic_Director.html.