Leadership Lessons From Pat Summit
Last week the world was saddened at the passing of renowned woman’s basketball coach Pat Summit.
Summit, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, succumbed at the too-early age of 64. However in the shortened lifespan, she accomplished some of the most remarkable endeavors and has set the tone for not only women in sports and leadership, but for everyone in leadership as a whole.
While Summit’s Tennessee Volunteers team was a rival to my favorite UConn Huskies, I always had an admiration for her winning mindset, tough-as-nails coaching style, and fierce loyalty she earned from her players.
Summitt was widely recognized as one of the toughest coaches in college basketball history, men’s or women’s. She was best known for giving her players an icy stare in response to poor play but claimed that she mellowed considerably later in her career. On at least two occasions, Tennessee asked Summitt to consider coaching the men’s team: once before 1997 and again in 2001. (1)
Pat Summit’s leadership skills lead us to understand some key principles that will enable us to create a positive legacy in those we connect with:
- Hard work – One of Pat’s best quotes reads: “Here’s how I’m going to beat you. I’m going to OUTWORK you. That’s it. That’s all there is to it”. Hard work was the corner stone of Summit’s success.
- Connection – Summit’s most favorite statistic? 161. Not the number of playoff wins, but the number of players she coached while at Tennessee. Why did this number matter to her? Because she saw the people beyond the work, the games, the championships. She knew that at the end of the day, these were young women whom she had a brief time to shape who they’d become, both on the court and off of it.
- Firm But Loyal – Ask her players over the years, and they will tell you she drove them to what they thought were breaking points over the years. Summit pushed, set lofty, demanding goals, and drove forward. But during each of these player’s tenures, they grew beyond what they thought they could do. And Summit had their best interests in mind. When they knew that, and realized how she was making them the best in the world, they reciprocated their loyalty, one they still commit to even today.
- Credibility – Here, Summit says it best. “Leadership is really a form of temporary authority that others grant you, and they only follow you if they find you consistently credible. It’s all about perception — and if teammates find you the least bit inconsistent, moody, unpredictable, indecisive or emotionally unreliable, then they balk and the whole team is destabilized.”
- Excellence & Perfection – There was no such things as a good-enough or ugly win for Summit. If the execution wasn’t perfect, then the work continued to get harder. Her ultimate goal each year was the championship, period. When her players realized that until the nets were cut down at the end, they needed to perfect their execution daily until it became second nature. Excellence ruled the culture.
- Training – Summit’s training philosophy was not in winning, but turning young women into selfless, team-driven winners. She showed leaders everywhere what focused training on a team-driven vision can accomplish.
- Courage – Whether fighting Alzheimer’s or carving out a name for women in the sports or leadership world, Pat Summit showed no fear. Her determination had no bounds, and that led to success both on the court and in the fight for her life against a terrible disease. Whether carving out credibility and recognition for women’s basketball, or gaining awareness for the very disease that was afflicting her, Summit never backed down from a challenge and met everything heads-on and held her head high.
- Vision without limits – Pat Summit took women’s college basketball and placed it on the map. On the heels of a women’s pro league (WBL) that went defunct, Summit got the world to notice the talent and excitement of the women’s game. During a growing trend in the men’s college game, she didn’t tag along for the ride, but took the popularity and turned the women’s game into one of the most popular sports in the country in its own right. Her success helped sparked the creation of a sustainable and popular new women’s pro league, the WNBA, of whom many of her players have become superstars in. Summit knew the sky was the limit for her players, and helped them reach it.
- Legacy – Summit will continue to have a growing legacy that extends beyond her days. Her fight against Alzheimer’s has raised a new level of awareness and support for those who have been diagnosed with it. Her ability to carve a market for talent in the women’s game that rival’s the men’s has paved the way for former college players like Becky Hammon to coach men in the NBA. And her drive for excellence has enabled these driven women to be pro players, CEOs, and leaders throughout many industries.
Pat Summit knew what it took to not only be a leader, but a visionary leader. She knew how to get the best talent, get the best out of that talent, and continue with new talent as it cycled through. Summit will be missed, but her leadership will be with us for a long time to come.
(sources: (1) Wikipedia)