Lessons for Women Leaders

A Note from Mona’s Desk

“Change equals self improvement. Push yourself to places you haven’t been before.” – Pat Summitt

Over the past couple of days, I have read several tribute articles about legendary University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, who died Tuesday (June 28th) at age 64, five years after being diagnosed with early onset of dementia.

Pat Summitt was the winningest coach (man or woman) in the history of Division One basketball. She never had a loosing record in the 38 seasons she coached (and eight national championships). Yes, she won 84% of the games she coached, including a silver medal as a member of the 1976 women’s Olympic basketball team. She would later win Gold medal as the coach of the 1984 team. President Obama recognized her accomplishments in 2012 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the nation’s highest civilian award. But her victories transcend the W-L column. She started coaching in the early 1970’s, prior to Title IX, when women’s sports were almost non-existent.  Yet, despite the limitations and challenges, she found ways to push women’s basketball—and women athletes—to new levels of respect.

In her June 29th column, subtitled Women athletes owe coach a lot, USA Today columnist Christine Brennan lauds Summitt for turning the University of Tennessee’s volunteer women’s basketball team into a national brand. But it was the next sentence in this article that got my attention. She goes on to say, “Summit did it, not by playing by the old, demure, ladylike rules of women’s sports, but by crashing the boys’ sports party. She showed that women could be tough and unrelenting and powerful—and be rewarded for it.”

I would offer one edit to the subtitle of Brennen’s article: Women athletes owe coach a lot. Beyond being a role model for women athletes, Pat Summitt is a role model for women—as leaders. Here’s four lessons we can all learn from Coach Summitt:

  1. Don’t listen when they won’t let you play.
  2. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Bust up in the middle of them—and earn respect.
  3. Play by your rules.
  4. Win though your tenacity, passion and working harder than anyone else.