The Leadership Playbook
Transforming Athletes into Leaders On and Off the Field
Paul Petrino sensed a void developing a few years ago—a void that could have a tremendous impact on a football team.
“About 10 years ago,” said the University of Idaho’s head football coach, “we decided we needed to teach them how to be leaders. Kids don’t grow up being leaders like they used to. When we were young, you started your own games out in the street. One guy coached one team, another guy the other. Now it’s all organized.”
Always a student of the Xs and Os that make up the game of football, Petrino also is a student of the intangibles that transform a good player into a great one. So much so, he developed his own leadership book: “Operation Excel.” He uses it with his players during the summer to instill in them the elements of leadership that he believes are essential to success.
“The number one thing to being a leader is you have to be a hard worker,” he said. “If you’re a hard worker and they see it and they respect you, they’re probably going to follow you.”
The mention of respect brings up another piece of the whole: character. In addition to hard work and character, Petrino rounds out his top five leadership qualities with confidence, commitment and the willingness to serve.
Director of Athletics Rob Spear realizes he leads one of the most visible units on campus; one that also is a vehicle to opening doors to and initiating conversations about the rest of the university.
“I always have been proud of the fact that athletics has taken advantage of our platform to educate groups about areas of the university through different communication channels,” said Spear, whose biweekly newsletter always includes a piece about an area of campus besides athletics, as does the weekly “Inside the Vandals” television program.
“Considering we are in the news almost every day, it is natural for us to assume a leadership position.”
Spear also teaches a freshman life skills class that includes a leadership component.
“Throughout the course,” Spear said, “I emphasize the values of having great character and being accountable as two cornerstones for being successful in life, not just athletics.”
As much as he influences incoming Vandals, he empowers and encourages his staff to be leaders not only within athletics but as part of the university and Moscow communities.
“Leadership has nothing to do with ordering people around or directing their every move,” he said. “I like to engage our unit managers in planning activities in order to help set the direction for the organization. If they are empowered and have the information and tools they need to lead, they can effectively manage in a proactive rather than reactive style.”
For both Spear and Petrino, strong leadership is the basis for a robust and successful team whether it be on the field or in the offices of the Kibbie Dome.
“One of our overarching principles,” Spear said, “is for us to be a great teammate—internally, externally, across campus, with our student body, within our community and our great alums.”
Article by Becky Paull, University of Idaho Athletics