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Findings of The AYSO Leadership Study

The AYSO Leadership Study, a survey that has been in the works since last June, has been completed. Participation was quite good with nearly two-thirds of AYSO Executive Members completing the questionnaire, including 100 percent of all Section Directors and 95 percent of the Area Directors. Thanks to everyone who participated in the project.

In this study, we used the framework developed by leadership gurus Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, PhD. Barry Posner – who is a professor of leadership at Santa Clara University - served as a consultant on this project and generously donated the survey instrument and his time and perspectives to the project. Further details and a brief over view of the framework can be found below.

What did we learn about leadership? First, was the unexpected finding that AYSO's volunteer leaders reported engaging in The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® more frequently when compared to the Kouzes Posner normative database of paid leaders. This raises some interesting hypotheses about how leadership may be even more crucial when working with volunteers rather than folks who are being paid to complete an assignment. Second, and the most important finding, was the clear, positive relationship found between the quality of the AYSO leadership experience and The Five Practices. What we discovered was that those volunteers who most highly valued their AYSO leadership experience and who were most proud of being a leader in AYSO engaged the most in The Five Practices. This finding reinforces our notion that developing the leadership competencies within our organization, at all levels, is critical not simply to the continued effectiveness of the organization but to sustaining the active involvement and commitment of our leaders themselves. This is an actionable finding and the National Board will be considering various ways to make leadership development an important additional outcome of volunteer participation in the organization.

Finally, there was another somewhat surprising finding, which while not intended as one of the original study outcomes, is important to continue to understand and investigate. The survey results were unable to figure out how to predict performance at an individual level. Neither growth in membership or volunteer participation could be explained by any individual demographic variable (e.g., age, education, occupation, experience, etc.) or any AYSO organizational variable (e.g., event participation, Board positions, etc.). This finding represents another challenge to the organization in better understanding and communicating what it means to be a successful leader in AYSO and how to both laud those being effective and help develop others so that they can be more effective. The proposed action in this case is for AYSO to continue pursuit of our objective of being able to track and measure our business, so that we can gain an understanding of the drivers of success, as well as the best methods and tools for improvement.

Thanks to all of you who participated in the survey, and we look forward to further discussions about leadership within AYSO in the months ahead. Please feel free to contact Mark Linsky or Ken Rhoads with any comments or questions.


The AYSO Leadership Study, addendum:

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have been studying leadership for over 30 years. They have been looking at best practices through investigating what people are doing when they are at their best as leaders. They have collected over 5,000 case studies and surveyed over 5 million people from around the globe. More than 600 studies have been based upon their leadership framework. The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership according to Kouzes and Posner are:

Model the Way
To effectively model the behavior they expect from others, leaders must first be clear about their guiding principles. They must clarify values. Leaders find their own voices, and then they clearly and distinctively give voice to their values. They set the standard for living those values with integrity. Exemplary leaders know that it’s their behavior that earns real respect. They practice what they preach. Their words and deeds are consistently aligned. The truth is that you either lead by example, or you don’t lead at all. Eloquent speeches about common values may inspire for the moment but are not enough to build and sustain credibility—the foundation of leadership and the most important personal quality people look for and admire in a leader.

Inspire a Shared Vision

Leaders engage others in tying their personal dreams to the aspirations of the group to create a shared vision. Only then will these followers commit their talents, time, and energy to working together to achieve greatness. Passion to make a difference drives leaders to gaze across the horizon of time and imagine the unique opportunities in store when they and their constituents arrive at a distant destination. With no signposts or road maps, exemplary leaders boldly and creatively communicate their hopes and dreams, and together with their teams’ desires, forge a unity of purpose that pulls everyone forward with a shared sense of destiny. Leaders breathe life into visions, through vivid language and an expressive style, and uplift others with their infectious enthusiasm and excitement to strive toward achieving the group’s goals for the greater good.

Challenge the Process
Exemplary leaders are pioneers at taking the initiative in searching for innovative ways to improve their own work, that of their teams, and their organizations. Rejecting the status quo, they experiment and take risks, treating the inevitable mistakes as important learning opportunities and creating a safe environment in which others can learn from failures as well as from successes. Always open to new opportunities that test their abilities, leaders know that innovation comes more from listening than from telling. Exemplary leaders also create a climate in which others feel safe and supported in taking risks and stepping outside their comfort zones. The work of leaders is change, and requires a willingness to take action, every day: to look outward for innovative ways to improve, to experiment and take risks, to constantly generate small wins—making it easy for the team to succeed in making progress—and to continually learn from experience.

Enable Others to Act
Exemplary leaders know they can’t do it alone. Leadership is a team effort, not a solo expedition. And only solid trust and strong relationships can transform shared visions into reality. Encouraging others to see themselves as capable and powerful—to nurture positive self-esteem—is key to mastering the art of mobilizing others in joining the journey toward a common destination. When leaders involve others in decision making and goal setting, and build teams with spirit, cohesion, and a true sense of community, they make it possible for teamwork, trust, and empowerment to flourish. Leaders strengthen everyone’s capacity with shared goals and shared roles that bind people together in collaborative pursuits.

As coaches and teachers, leaders give people challenging tasks, clear away obstacles, and support others with the tools they need to be successful
Encourage the Heart
Exemplary leaders make sure that people understand in their hearts that what they do matters. They expect the best; share the spotlight and credit for a job well done, celebrating people’s accomplishments in personal and meaningful ways. They put into action the principles and essential practices that support our basic human need to be appreciated for who we are and for what we do. In big ways and small—from marching bands and T-shirts to simple and heartfelt thank-yous—leaders recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence and celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community.

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