Exceptional Leaders are Strategic Thinkers: Frank Broyles on Strategy

Though I am Texan with a fondness for the Longhorns, I have become an avid Razorback fan, and as a result, a fan of the entire Southeastern Conference. I have enjoyed the privilege (because of my association with Cameron Smith & Associates) of participating in the monthly luncheons of the newly formed Arkansas Razorback Touchdown Club where we have great camaraderie with other fans, listen to great speakers and get a little insight from players, coaches and sports analysts.

Today, I had the privilege of hearing Coach Broyles. I have heard him speak on many occasions, and I believe today, he was a strong as I have heard him. What impressed me most today came as a result of my current focus on Leader Development and Executive Coaching. One of the things that is required of the successful Executives is that they must be strategic thinkers. My experience is that many executives get so busy with their focus on the immediacy of the current tasks that the tyranny of the urgent eliminates their capacity for strategic thinking. Not so for the leader of Razorback sports over the years. Frank Broyles told two stories today that helped me appreciate the strategic thinking of those that have led this enterprise.

When ask what the most significant defining moment was for Razorback Athletics, Frank (after pausing to consider the defeat of Texas in Austin) pointed to his predecessor, Coach Barnhill, who later became Athletic Director. He told the story of how Coach Barnhill, in the 1940s realized the uniqueness of the Arkansas situation. His challenge was to build a world class, competitive sports program in a university that was situated off in the Northwest Corner of the state, and in a state with a very small fan base potential. Coach Barnhill knew that in order to move the program in the right direction, it would require an energized fan base. He developed a strategy to gain the loyalty of those potential fans. He focused his attention on convincing the radio stations across the state to exclusively air the Razorbacks games, instead of those of the Razorbacks and the adjoining state competitiors. That strategy paid off as fans throughout the state rallied around those radio stations to support the Razorbacks. Additionally, the Gazette newspaper took on a similar focus. It wasn’t long before the fan base was unlike any other in sports. The strategy was paying off. Coach Broyles said that when he came here from his stints as a coach in Georgia and Texas, he was amazed at how a state of so few people could rally such support for its teams. That is when he made his decision to focus his efforts on getting the top job.

Of course, getting Coach Broyles to Arkansas was a pretty good strategic move as well. Not only was he a great coach, he was also a great strategic thinker. Maybe it was his mentor and predecessor that instilled that leadership trait. He described the thought processes behind the decision to switch from the Southwest Conference to the Southeastern Conference. As a leader who allowed himself time to step back and think strategically about his business, he could see both opportunity and threats. He saw major league sports come into states like Texas and dominate the headlines and erode the fan base away from college sports. He began to consider what might happen should this continue, or should Texas decide to leave the SWC. That is when he made the tough decision to transition to the SEC, (not a popular decision among most of the fans). Most fans today applaud that decision as having made an incredible impact on Razorback sports, which today boasts a program that only states of two or three times the fan-base population can boast.

Are you taking time to step back from your business to think strategically, to get yourself out of the tyranny of the urgent to consider the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats for your business, and what you are going to do about them? There two ways to make this happen. One is to force yourself to block time for the process. If you don’t make time for it, it will likely never occur. If it does not occur your competition may pass you by, or you may lose your job. Secondly, you will have to develop your people to take on the responsibilities they are capable of, so you can take time necessary to look two to three years out and consider what needs to change in order for you or your company to stay on the trajectory of success.

By the way, your people are capable of much more than you think, but that is a topic for a different discussion.

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