What Does A Leader Look Like?

As the madness of March fades into spring (soon I hope), can I just say how proud I am of Greg Gard and the UW Men’s Basketball team. What a season…

Losing a coach like Bo mid-season can shake any team, but the Badgers Men’s Basketball program responded beautifully. And a big reason that happened is because Greg Gard stepped up.

Gard didn’t try to step into Bo Ryan’s shoes; his own shoes suited him just fine. He stepped into this very public position with confidence and authenticity, bringing his own brand of leadership, bringing his own thoughts on how to run the offense and substitution patterns, and bringing the Badgers 23 seconds from the Elite 8. The shoes fit.

But Gard’s success this season isn’t all on him. I am also inspired by the support he received – from the team, the program, the athletic department, the university, the fans, and the community. Great leadership doesn’t happen without great ‘followership’ and that combination helped Gard quickly earn respect and support from Badgernation. Mid-December to mid-January can be easily forgotten now – but the natural doubts, nay-saying and snarky commentary that comes with starting 1-4 in the Big Ten could have torn this team to shreds. The achievement we cheered the last two months of the season was because all the actors in this production stayed together and owned their role.

Our businesses and community organizations go through leadership changes all the time; many would profess it’s the most important and toughest work to get done and get done with distinction. While Gard had worked alongside Ryan for over two decades, he resisted the urge to lead in the same way. The team didn’t need a ‘Greg Ryan,’ they needed an authentic Greg Gard. Because that’s what a leader is – a person who understands that who they are is enough.  If you can’t do you and lead, there’s no way you can convince others to do them and follow.  When everyone feels comfortable owning their role, a 1-4 team shocks the world (but not themselves) and gets to the Sweet 16.

So what does a leader look like? It looks like Greg Gard. It looks like Bo Ryan. It looks like… well, go look in the mirror. Yeah, it looks like that.

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