Episode 046 – University of Richmond Director of Athletics Keith Gill
Keith demonstrates the importance of culture, the advantages of empowering people around you, and what’s in a wardrobe!
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Hey everyone and welcome to the All-Star Leader Podcast, where together we learn about leadership from the best and brightest, and keep it fun by connecting it to our passion for sports!
I’m your host Daniel Hare, and today our guest is University of Richmond Director of Athletics Keith Gill. Keith is in his fifth year with the Spiders, and prior to that spent five years in the same role at American University.
Keith has also made stops at the University of Oklahoma, Vanderbilt University and the NCAA national office. He also served as the Vice-Chair of the NCAA Division I Council.
He is a graduate of Duke University where he lettered four years as a member of the Blue Devil football team.
This is Keith Gill. Hey Keith thanks for coming on the show!
- Keith share with us a bit about your early years; where did you grow up and who was the first impactful leader you spent time around.
- Grew up in Orlando; dad was in the Navy so lots of moving around
- Played four sports in high school
- Then on to Duke
- NCAA Internship
- (Are kids still playing lots of sports or are they specializing early?) – more specialization now, though he got a lot out of the multiple sports.
- Football coach Larry Gurley and baseball coach Bob King were influential leaders in his life. They were very different and highly successful. They shared common threads of successful leaders, but great leaders do what works for them and are true to themselves. You can’t emulate someone; you have to be who you are and apply those principles appropriately.
- Setting expectations is very important, along with accountability. Must be able to connect; must be able to listen. Let ideas percolate from the bottom up and facilitate conversations where everyone has a voice and feels invested.
- (practical way to be intentional about facilitating these conversations?) – culture is key; do people feel like they can speak up? Structure is key too; one on ones with direct reports. Also getting out of your office, bouncing around and popping your head in is a great way to connect and pick up pieces of information.
- What did you learn about leadership from your time playing football at Duke?
- Such a gift
- Tries to create the same experience for today’s student-athletes that he had
- Learned how to write; was challenged; learned he could handle more than he thought he could.
- Learned life lessons (i.e. how to hail a cab!) which are simple once you learn them, but if nobody teaches them to you, you won’t know! Learned these at Duke.
- (And how do you handle playing a sport that is not the priority): there’s an adjustment; as a 19-year-old, it’s hard to see other athletes on TV and with the best gear. But there’s always someone who has it better, and others who have it worse (the cross-country team v. football). Focus on trying to get the most you can out of the opportunities you do have. If you get the degree you’ve won, and it doesn’t matter how many sweatshirts you have.
- You spent a number of years at the NCAA. How would you describe the strengths of that organization that the leaders in our audience could implement within their own organizations?
- Incredible experience; learned how to be a professional; had a mentor and a director of the program who were great influences
- Of course, once he got hired full-time by the NCAA, his mentor told him he had to upgrade his wardrobe!
- Able to see presidents and ADs work
- You no doubt worked with a number of committees while at the NCAA; what did you notice about presidents, ADs, etc. who were able to influence and lead other presidents and ADs in those committees?
- Had the opportunity to see that a lot!
- Some people get their work done during breaks
- Others speak rarely, but when they do the respect is so great people listen
- We’ve heard from former University of Oklahoma administrators-now-ADs Kirby Hocutt and Rick Hart, so it’s your turn to tell us what you learned from your time working with Joe Casiglione about how to lead a department and staff.
- Joe empowers his staff and gives them a lot of responsibility, opportunity and access to himself
- He listens to his staff; he gives lots of his own thoughts as well.
- When you first became an AD at American University, what surprised you the most and how did you respond to that surprise?
- How relevant are we to the institution? If athletics went away, would we be missed? It didn’t seem like it in the beginning. We didn’t have much of an impact on the life of the institution.
- So that was much of the focus early on: to integrate athletics into the life of the institution
- Engaged faculty: for example created a faculty/staff basketball game, with a banner in honor of the winner hanging in the gym rafters
- (That issue is even more difficult than just succeeding on the field): relevance is hard because so many things are competing for people’s time/money/effort
- Let’s talk about culture. How do you go about creating a culture and how do you maintain it?
- You have to model the behavior you seek
- You have to define your values (ground rules and principles that are agreed to)
- With such decentralized operations among the teams, the culture is critical
- How would you advise young leaders to make an impact on their organizations when they don’t yet have the title/authority?
- Think of themselves as a leader; it’s a mindset; every day they are an agent for their department/school/team/company
- They need to be willing to take on challenges; step up when asked; volunteer
- He used to volunteer to pick up the SEC commish when he would come into town; that allowed him to get to know him; the contact has paid off over the years
- Finding opportunity everywhere it’s presented is big; you don’t know where your next opportunity is coming from; while at the NCAA he went on campus at Stanford for some work, and met Todd Turner which led to Keith getting hired at Vanderbilt.
- What is the biggest mistake you have made as a leader, and what did you learn from it?
- Made a bunch
- Not understanding the power of words: left someone off a list when making a presentation, and made an off-hand joke about it in public; the person was embarrassed and it created an issue.
- Though the culture was such that the person felt comfortable coming to Keith and explaining how that made them feel. So that was a silver lining.
- Very cognizant now as to the words he uses about others in public.
- Be introspective enough to learn from them; goal should be not to repeat them.
- Five rapid fire questions
- Name one trait or characteristic you look for when you hire someone.
- People skills
- What habit has been key to your success?
- Most important app or productivity tool?
- Washington Post
- Most influential leader you’ve personally been around?
- One sentence of advice for the leaders in our audience?
- Find the balance between what you want out of your career and life, and focus on where you are right now
- Name one trait or characteristic you look for when you hire someone.
- Antioch Live/Clear Day Media Group – music
- Jonathan Davis – production
- Clint Musslewhite – voice over