By Turner Walston
Carolina student-athletes filled the stands on one sideline at Carmichael Arena last Monday evening for the Spring Life Skills session. Kevin Gober of the Disney Institute gave an hour-long presentation on “Vision, Leadership and Disney Best Practices.”
Disney one of several organizations at the top of their fields that share values and principles with the athletic department that Carolina has partnered with in recent years to share strategies for improvement. Last fall, Carolina administrators visited the KO Lab at Coca-Cola in Atlanta, for example. “These are organizations that are the very best in the world at what they do, and they have similar values, focused on honesty, respect, courage and integrity,” associate athletic director Rick Steinbacher said. “They can really help us learn and grow, so that’s why Disney’s been a good fit.”
Gober’s presentation was multi-dimensional. He focused on living every day according to purpose and being intentional in one’s actions. Behaviors, he said, create a culture, and therefore good behaviors will produce desired results.
The most effective portion of the presentation was when Gober asked the student-athletes to huddle on their own, thinking for a moment on the questions he posed. Then, Disney’s Keith Morris worked the crowd with a microphone a la a daytime talk show for their answers. The question ‘What does a leader do to make him or her a leader?’ produced some great responses.
“They take initiative,” said women’s tennis sophomore Whitney Kay. For her answer, Morris rewarded Kay with a figurine of Mickey Mouse’s dog, Pluto.
“Lead by example” from another student-athlete got a Minnie Mouse. Further rewards were handed out for “Take responsibility for their own actions” and “Unify the team.”
Gober continued his message by saying that “common sense things are not always common practice.” That is, we don’t necessarily follow the steps that are most likely to produce desired results. Sometimes, the easy way out becomes the hard way when we don’t take the time to think things through.
Student-athletes are a captive audience when it comes to leadership, as they are constantly around coaches, teammates and instructors. It’s natural for a leadership structure to occur. It’s not hard to figure out what’s important to a leader, Gober said. “Every leader is telling a story about what he or she values” by the way they lead, he said. Then, he shared Disney’s values of openness, respect, courage, honesty, integrity, diversity and balance. Those values fall in lockstep with the core values of Carolina Athletics: responsibility, innovation, service and excellence. Gober said it is important to identify what the student-athletes value as people, athletes and leaders, and live according to those values.
The common purpose of Carolina Athletics is to “educate and inspire through athletics.” That is the mission statement of the department, and Gober asked the student-athletes to identify words that they operate by. “No one said it would be easy, but they said it would be worth it,” was one response. “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re not going anywhere,” was another.
Later, Gober told his own personal story of his senior season of high school football. The team fared poorly; not winning a single game. Still, there was a gentleman who met Gober in the parking lot following every contest. ‘Are you hurt?’ was the first question. ‘Did you give it your best?’ was the second. Gober said that he had, and the man told him that was all he could do. His father was his role model, and Gober encouraged the student-athletes to find role models of their own.
Gober first became involved with Carolina in December 2012, when the Tar Heel football seniors visited the Disney Institute in Atlanta. He spoke with about 40 student-athletes in January before carrying the message to the group assembled last Monday. “We carry this message to business professionals all over the globe and my personal opinion is if we can get this message to them early about being focused and intentional about leadership and creating their leadership story, the more ‘win’ they have over their lifetime,” he said after the presentation.
After sitting in on the presentation, Steinbacher said his take-home message would be the piece about common sense things not always being common practices. “That’s a challenging message for student-athletes and for us as administrators, but it’s a simple one that we can act on.”
One of those common sense practices came up during the audience participation portion of the event, and it happened to come from Dory, the Pacific regal blue tang in Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo. One Tar Heel student-athlete said his personal mantra was “Just keep swimming.” That student-athlete was a swimmer. Common sense indeed.