Whit Babcock Executive Office
Leading through Transition
O ne of the great challenges facing nonprofit leaders today is leading in times of transition. We had an opportunity to speak with Whit Babcock, Athletic Director at Virginia Tech.We asked him about how leaders in the social benefit realm can grow their organizations, how to develop and maintain talent in your organization, what his 6-month plan was, and how to interact with tradition in an organization. Growing Your Organization First, you are only as good as the people around you. Early on, as a leader, you might think, “I’ll pick this team and I will lead them, and it’s me leading.” But I very quickly learned (as anyone in a leadership position should) that you’d better surround yourself with good people. That means leaders must have self-awareness. Transparency and trust are also vital in these situations. These are characteristics that transcend an industry.This isn’t just athletics, or one particular industry, this is just as true in nonprofits or any other sector. The staff that you have around you must be given authority and responsibility to do their jobs. You also are responsible for holding them (and yourself ) accountable. Developing and RetainingTalent I believe that people desire to know that they are going to see career development take place. This brings three positive impacts for leaders:
The 6-Month Plan I have learned a lot in my different stops that have prepared me for my work at Virginia Tech. I believe you have to get the lay of the land, so to speak, work to shorten your learning curve, and go in with no preconceived 4. Pick your spots to implement change. One of the things that I have done in each of my jobs is to have a meeting with every single employee. At Virginia Tech that is 171 employees. We do it for everyone, entry- level to head football coach, and everyone in between. We set the meeting on their turf, which hopefully begins to set the tone about my care for them. At Tech, those meetings took four months. It was a major investment, but it allowed me to get to know the people and the culture, which shortened my learning curve quickly. It was also an opportunity for everyone to have a voice and for me to get the lay of the land really quickly. Before long, consistent themes begin to develop that provide real value. Everyone has a homework assignment that they have to turn in.They are asked: • To share about themselves. • To complete a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the department. • To state who the go-to people are in the organization when you really need help or an answer. notions. Four keys stick out: 1. Get the lay of the land 2. Major on the majors 3. Hurry, but don’t rush
Developing a career development plan, and helping staff achieve that, provides talent with an understanding that they are valued for who they are and where they are able to grow. If a staff member wants to leave for another job, I understand that.Who am I to tell them that they shouldn’t leave for another job? I have. I want them to know, however, that the people that you work for and the network that those people have is probably more important than a title or a paycheck. There are certain athletic directors, including one I worked for at the University of Missouri, Mike Alden, who helped me understand not to get tied up in upward mobility and paychecks.That stuff will come with character and competence.The person I work for, what they can teach me, how they can develop me, and their network of contacts is much more important than titles. I recommend not jumping jobs just to climb the ladder. As you get on in your career, be strategic about your moves. Ultimately, with every new job you take, ask “If this is where I am for the next 20 years, I am going to be satisfied?” Taking jobs, with intentions that this is going to be a 3-5 year stop, isn’t the best plan forward. You’ll always be looking for the next job and not performing your duties at levels that lead to excellence.
1. It continues to grow the staff 2. It positively effects morale 3. It assists in lifelong learning.
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