Aggie Basketball Coach Inspires Teamwork Through Leadership Course
Fifth-year Texas A&M men’s basketball coach Buzz Williams considers teaching a class about the principles of leadership part of his responsibility to the next generation.
“The world needs as many good leaders as possible,” Williams said. “Anything I can do from the chair that I sit in to potentially contribute an inkling of that, that’s what I want to do.”
Once a month, Williams takes over as an instructor for the university’s Workshop in Leadership Education course, in partnership with the Hollingsworth Center for Ethical Leadership in the Corps of Cadets.
“I just hope maybe that one thing I’ll say, because I’m probably saying it in a different way than the way they’ve heard, maybe it will resonate, maybe it will help them on their path of leadership,” Williams said.
Texas A&M Today asked Workshop in Leadership Education instructors Darin J. Paine and David W. Keller to explain the principles covered in the course, how the class works to develop good leaders and the role Williams plays in reinforcing those lessons.
What prompted the idea for the course?
Texas A&M University’s Corps of Cadets enjoys a great working relationship with the athletic department. We regularly have teams come and march to dinner with the Corps and engage with the cadets. In the past, former baseball coach Rob Childress would come speak to cadets in one of our leadership courses. We always wanted to expand that invitation to other coaches within the athletic department. Buzz Williams had been teaching leadership lessons at Virginia Tech before he arrived at Texas A&M as the university’s head men’s basketball coach, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity for him to do the same here with the Hollingsworth Center for Ethical Leadership in the Corps.
Coach Williams was extremely gracious and agreed to teach the first lesson of every month. We opened up his teaching days to the entire student body, so each class period he taught, we would have non-cadets join in and learn alongside our cadets. This is just one more way we can make our leadership development opportunities open to the full student population.
What does the course explore?
The course explores leadership within a team concept — which is why coach’s lessons are so relevant. Over the course of the semester, the students learn about reading the context of a given leadership situation, recognizing the leadership challenges present and developing an appropriate strategy for maximizing performance and accomplishing their stated mission and goals. When Coach Williams comes in and shares his leadership wisdom, it helps drive home the course objectives in a very relevant way.
Why is this course relevant now?
Most students in the Corps of Cadets will not enter military service upon graduation. They are leveraging the Corps experience to develop leadership and character competencies that will help make them successful in life — no matter what career field they choose to enter. We have great faculty members at A&M who teach them the technical skills required in their respective majors. Our efforts here seek to help students learn universal leadership knowledge and skills (such as teamwork, critical thinking, leadership, adaptability), regardless of their chosen career path. As a result, this course is relevant to all students, not just students interested in a narrow group of disciplines.
What’s a critical lesson from the course?
An overarching lesson is trying to get students to think for themselves while understanding the concept of team. We, not just students, often default to outside influences such as parents, friends and social media. It takes effort, but students need to take time to develop and consider their own thoughts. So, how do you do that? We break that process up into small chunks, or lessons. For example, a common phrase among cadets is “Fake it ‘til you make it.” However, according to “The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership,” “There’s nothing less confidence inspiring than a person faking knowledge they don’t possess.” Instead of faking it ‘til they make it, they learn it until they earn it. Put in the preparation and work ahead of time to be successful.
While students need to think for themselves, they also need to fit into a team. No matter what industry you go into, you work with a team. Even a day trader relies on the information of others. We all have different opinions, ideas and perspectives — so how do we collaborate and be successful? We don’t always need to agree, but we do need to understand where the other person is coming from. Students can disagree, that can be healthy, but how they go about it matters. We use ethical dilemmas in class to spark healthy conversation and get students to flush out their ideas while trying to understand why another student feels the opposite. It’s a lot of fun.
What materials does the course feature?
As mentioned, one is the book “The Eight Paradoxes of Great Leadership” by Tim Elmore. It was published in 2021, so it’s helpful to have some post-COVID perspective on some topics. We also have them work through an Individual Leadership Development Plan. This is a living tool they can use to develop and track their own followership and leadership perspectives and carry with them as students and into their future careers. We also use real-world case studies and examples to identify what the student would do in that challenging scenario. Many of these case studies do not have a clearly defined right or wrong, they are more complicated than that. Again, the goal is to get the students thinking.
What’s particularly impactful is when coach reinforces a concept we’ve covered in class. When he explains it, it resonates with the students. It reminds me of my own kids; I can repeat something 10 times and they may not pay much attention. But when one of their coaches or teachers says the same thing one time, suddenly it becomes their new favorite thing.
What will the course prepare students to do?
This course helps prepare students to lead, both here at A&M and after graduation. It helps them learn to build trust among a diverse group of team members, create and maintain a healthy team culture, develop and maximize skills, and leverage individual and group talent to achieve desired outcomes. In addition, the course emphasizes the ethical demands of leadership — which is a real-world manifestation of our Aggie values. Buzz’s efforts with the basketball team are aligned with these principles, so it really is a perfect match. We’re honored to have him as part of our instructional team.