I recently had the privilege of speaking at a back-to-school kickoff event for the entire Iowa City Community School District about teamwork and leadership. I am sharing a portion of my talk below. I feel that this can easily translate to many professions and daily life.
As I have thought about my own life, I have been privileged to be a part of many teams; sports teams, bands, business units, not-for-profit boards, and now a large bank which I am charged with leading. I have searched my memory for great experiences within a team atmosphere. There have been many. The one I choose to share with you today comes from my junior year at William Jewell College in (it pains me to tell you this) 1974-75. I was fortunate to be a part of a college basketball team that, for a one-week period, captured the imagination of college basketball fans in Western Missouri. To recount, briefly:
The WJC Cardinals barely made the 1975 NAIA play-offs. The Missouri District play-off winner advanced to the NAIA National Tournament, which was then the small college equivalent of March Madness today. Our team was the last seed of the six teams in the play-offs and we barely made the field. This meant we had to win three games on the road over a six-day period to advance to the National Tournament. Well, we did just that, winning on Saturday night in St. Joseph by two points, on Monday night in Kansas City in overtime, and then again on Wednesday night in overtime in Springfield. In effect, we shocked the small college basketball world in Missouri.
There were many special things about that team. One thing that was NOT special was our talent level. Man for man, each of the three teams we beat had superior athletes and talent. What were the lessons learned and how do they apply to the people in this room?
We had a strong leader in our head coach. At times, he wasn’t easy to play for but we were always prepared and we knew that he loved us and wanted the best for each player. We went into every game very well prepared and when mid-game corrections were needed, they were made.
Leaders, take note! Whether it is on school board, in the central office personnel, or in building leadership, you are vitally important! Your job is to share the vision and share it constantly and consistently – everyone has to know the game plan!
Not all of us on that championship team were close friends. As I think back on it, there were several cliques on that team – but when game time came, we were all on the same team with only one goal—to win the game! And, we had strong leadership from the upperclassmen, too. No one ever got too far out of line without being reeled back in by one of the juniors or seniors.
That basketball season lasted roughly four months. Our teachers and school staff are about to embark on a nine-month journey. You will have good days and bad days. You won’t be good friends with everyone in your building. But you also realize that your job is to provide– as you have in the past – a solid education for each child who walks through your doors.
In many buildings, the challenge is great but it is not insurmountable in any of them! Hold each other accountable in a positive way. Veterans, be there for our younger team members – after all, someone was there for you many years ago when you started teaching!
Our road to the championship led us through three hostile arenas where very few fans were cheering for us. In fact, all three games were played in front of capacity crowds that were very loud. Again, in hindsight, that did not seem to bother us. We stuck together and we believed in each other and after each win, the locker room celebration was sweet!
Administrators, teachers, and others, you will be under much scrutiny over the next nine months. Unfortunately, not all comments directed your way will be constructive. Some will not even be true! But stick together! When you hit a rough patch, close ranks, have each other’s back, and keep pushing forward. I’ve found the loudest in life are often wrong. Don’t let the decibel level get you down. Keep pushing or as I often say “be like that old Missouri mule, moving forward with blinders on!”
And now one last lesson learned: Our coach, John Hickman – as I previously noted – did a great job of preparing us. While Coach Hickman could be very excitable at times, I remember during this three game stretch, he was a model of decorum. He was composed, confident, and in time outs, always encouraging … and we, as players, took his lead and kept our cool as well.
Every word, every action, is under scrutiny. Make sure you are clear with your expectations of others. When the temperature gets turned up (and it will) remember that “professionals act as they must, not as they feel.” And always keep preaching the vision, the values, the core principles that drive this organization! Do that and your team will stay together.
I concluded with the following, which is specific to the Johnson County, Iowa, community.
We’ve been a leader in the Johnson County community since our founding in 1934, nearly 82 years! From our humble beginnings in downtown Iowa City, we now have 43 offices in Iowa, the Twin Cities area, Western Wisconsin and Southwest Florida. More than 200 of our 650+ employees are employed in Johnson County and many of them have kids in the ICCSD. We take great pride in the success of this school district!
For the first time this year, we have decided to “adopt a school” and we as a company plan to volunteer several hundred hours, our dollars, and our hearts to make this school a better and more successful place and, most importantly, to positively affect young lives. We believe we are the first Iowa City business to adopt a school and we hope we set an example for others in this community to do the same thing. We all win when our schools get better.
We sponsor a lot of great programming and events, but the two that I am most proud of are in coordination with our schools. The MidWestOne Kids Art Exhibit and the Run for the Schools. Your elementary school art teachers do a fantastic job working with us to create the single largest art exhibition each year in Iowa City. More than 900 pieces of art are put up in our downtown lobby from February to April and over 1,000 people come through in one night to see it all. We frame 25 pieces and display them in our local bank lobbies for a year, and another 25 are published in the annual calendar.
As a runner, the Run for the Schools holds a special place in my heart. And the story behind the Run for the Schools is a special one.
The run itself started as the Hospice Road Race and had been going on for over 30 years. In the late 1990’s, the organization that organized that race fell on hard times and was deep in debt. Rather than let that run default and go away, Dick Summerwill, my predecessor at the bank, worked with the group to reorganize and become a non-profit to raise funds for the Iowa City schools. I’m not shy to say that without MidWestOne Bank, known as Iowa State Bank and Trust at the time, the Run for the Schools would not be here raising thousands of dollars for your schools each October. We are very proud to be the title sponsor of that run. The money it raises is terrific, but the best thing that it brings to your students is the awareness to healthy living.
I wish all of you the very best in the coming year.