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Episode 032 – Colorado State University Director of Athletics Joe Parker

Posted on Dec 22, 2016 by in Podcast Episode | 0 comments


Joe talks about why less is more with your mission statement, the importance of empowering the entire team to think and take action, and why collaboration is the key.


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Today our guest is the Director of Athletics at Colorado State University Joe Parker. Joe joined the Rams in March of 2015 following a successful administrative career spanning elite programs such as Texas Tech, Michigan and Oklahoma, where he and I first connected, among others.

Joe was a three time All-America swimmer at the University of Michigan, and was referred to as a Zen Master in a recent article by the hometown newspaper.


  1. First Joe is it true that you are Zen Master?
    1. Coloradoan article
    2. VB coach Tom Hilbert
  2. Why don’t we start by having you fill in a few of the gaps in your bio I just referenced, and tell us how you got where you are today.
    1. Didn’t discover athletics as a career until late 20s
    2. Did a bunch of informational interviews with the Texas Associate ADs
    3. Worked as an intern in development and was off to the races
      1. Customer care
      2. Event set up
    4. Donor benefits such as tickets/parking
    5. Had worked between undergrad and grad in the private sector
    6. The career fit with him
    7. This is a give-back profession; more experienced people are almost always happy to share thoughts/advice with those just coming up or interested in the profession
  3. What did you learn about leadership as a student-athlete at Michigan that continues to impact how you lead today?
    1. Not everyone in athletics was a student-athlete; presents some advantages in that you realize and understand that it’s not easy to be a student-athlete
    2. Build core of who he was as a person; knowing your role in a team; supporting those around you; accrues to the betterment of the entire team
    3. Often draw on those experiences as a student-athlete; understand what it takes for those student-athletes to be successful
  4. You were handed a fairly sizable task when you first came aboard at Colorado State, and that was building a new football stadium. What was that like to walk into and tell us about a few of the challenges and successes you’ve experienced.
    1. Context: CSU liked that he has been part of large capital projects at Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan when they hired him; so he understood what it took to go from start to finish
    2. He joined four months after the university decided to move forward; didn’t have all the fundraising in place yet nor was there a shovel in the ground
    3. Negotiated new multimedia rights deal with Learfield
    4. Secured several naming rights within the stadium
    5. Sold out 100% of premium seating/clubs
    6. At the beginning there was a lump in the throat not knowing whether the stakeholders would participate
    7. On-campus stadium is so key to interaction with the main campus and the university
  5. How would you describe your leadership philosophy, and where did that come from/how did it develop?
    1. Over time he has had great mentors who have given him a lot of autonomy to develop his own way
    2. Very collaborative, though he knows ultimate decisions will be his; he likes to delegate as much as possible to those closest to the action – everyone is a leader
    3. Seek input from as many people as possible; then get three/four key people in the room and get their thoughts and work toward a consensus; then advance it
    4. Always like to have partners in decisions; particularly your president
    5. He tells people they have ability to take action because many will sit back and wait if they don’t have the title
    6. He can’t be everywhere at every moment and can’t think about everything that needs to be thought about.
  6. You also came to CSU replacing someone who was in many ways your opposite; how did you approach that dynamic and how would you advise us to handle similar circumstances?
    1. Hard to speak to the past sometimes
    2. There are lots of effective leadership styles
    3. Just be you; can’t present yourself any differently or people will see through it
    4. Didn’t really have to sell that to the staff; but you do need to be patient and demonstrate a level of competency
  7. What is the greatest leadership challenge you have faced as an athletic director and how did you handle it? What did you learn from it/would you do anything different?
    1. When you encounter a moment where someone hasn’t been able to meet expectations and you haven’t been able to get them up to where they should be
    2. There has to be a separation and that’s a very difficult call
    3. You can’t hesitate when you see someone making a misstep; you have to be candid and let people know what you think; address it early
    4. It’s unfair to let a lot of issues to accumulate without them being addressed and then it’s too late; that’s when people feel blindsided
  8. You spent a number of years at schools that were THE #1 show in town. Most of us do not have that luxury and now you are in a crowded market with Colorado, the Denver professional teams, etc. How do you go about distinguishing yourself among the competition for attention?
    1. Wonderful thing about intercollegiate athletics – you have students with an affinity for your program and want a good experience; this is the most important piece, because students in the building has the largest impact on the environment
    2. Next you have alumni who also have an affinity for your school and programs; and they usually live nearby as well
    3. Then a focus on the local community
    4. The Broncos have done a great job engaging the entire state, but CSU has worked with them as well
    5. The motivations between what you do on the professional level v. college are very different; mission statements will be very different
    6. (Jeremy Darlow book Brands Win Championships – not getting distracted by trying to have mass appeal but instead focus on those close to you)
    7. Must constantly work hard to encourage students to participate; the in-game experience is critical to how people engage with your program and university
  9. Have you identified a secret sauce when it comes to recruiting and hiring the best people for your team (coaches and/or staff)?
    1. The process is key
    2. Collaboration is an important part of the process
    3. Put a diverse group together so you can see things from all sides and then start narrowing the pool
    4. Bring a few on campus for face to face, and create a broad experience for the candidates when they come on campus
    5. (What about advice for candidates to prepare) – Core competencies for whatever the role is; someone who can articulate their passion for the role; experience should be conversational; not overly rehearsed; carry the vocabulary of the job; authentic in who they are and how they present themselves
  10. What is your take on mission statements, values statements, etc.? How, if at all, should we implement them into our organizations effectively?
    1. Most mission statements are too verbose; they need to be concise and memorable; they have to articular the purpose of the organization
    2. Dave Brandon at Michigan really showed him how to make missions statements/strategy/guiding principles/long-range goals into objectives that worked and made sense; very simple approach
    3. They did have a 44 word mission statement when he first arrived; nobody knew it or could recite it or get close
    4. “To educate, engage and excel” is what they wound up with after 1.5 days of discussion
    5. (Jimmy Seibert on Episode 008 did something similar and narrowed their value words from 15 down to three)
    6. You want people to be able to embed the thoughts into their daily work life
  11. What advice do you have for young professionals who are striving to be better leaders or maybe even trying to get that first opportunity to lead?
    1. More important than just getting a job is to understand your passion and connect it with the job you’re seeking
    2. If you weren’t getting paid, would you enjoy what you’re doing?
  12. What habit or productivity tool has been key to your success?
    1. At the end of a day, when you’re done, do three other things before you go home
    2. Write a list of three things you want to accomplish the next morning when you first get in
    3. These were from former Michigan AD Bill Martin

Thank Yous/Acknowledgements:

  1. Antioch Live/Clear Day Media Groupmusic
    1. More here.
  2. Jonathan Davis – production
  3. Clint Musslewhite voice over


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