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Leadership is a team sport
In a prior article, I wrote, “I am a student and a teacher for life. I will never let a good leadership lesson go to waste.”
My eyes might be “untrained” for football, but our dismal Trojan Football season is not about football if you ask me.
Most of what I know, practice, and teach over the last three decades relates to public policy, management, law, and the leadership required to link them. I am blessed to have led organizations in all three sectors: public, private, and not-for-profit. I still serve self-aware but focused on the mission and the people served by that mission. It is never about me but the people I serve. My teams and I educate, communicate, and develop, having raised and spent millions of dollars for causes we believe in and serve.
While my leadership may have accounted for 10% of our overall impact, 90% came from the organization’s unique culture and the remarkable team we assembled in service of that culture. Leadership is about creating high-performing teams that efficiently deliver the organization’s mission.
In my years of service, I learned that great cultures leverage their mission, unique purpose, and values to strengthen their ethos. I may have drunk the “Kool-aid” of our brand, “We are Trojans, we are SC,” but I sincerely believe that is a promise we deliver to our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and fans. This brand sets us apart from the competition. Our constituents feel meaningfully connected to this brand and its promise. This brand is not pretentious but humbly rooted in character, excellence, and culture.
Every organization has its idea of what it promotes. But without a clear purpose, communication, and accountability, the why and how are more elusive. It is not about doing something new. It is about finding and embracing what has worked for generations. Trojan legends will tell you how this has worked for them on and off the field. A retrospection and reflection on our USC Football culture may be the remedy we must prescribe to rediscover our excellence.
Competencies to lead others start with building relationships and trust. To extend influence, leaders must lead by example. Steven Covey called this “modeling the way.” Strengthening others to empower them to act is a special gift. Leaders foster collaboration and build spirited teams. Team building is essential to many critical functions of a team, including mission, vision, collaboration, culture, morale, and productivity. Leadership qualities like empathy and emotional intelligence, active listening, body language, and conflict resolution ensure a cohesive, successful team where members work together to deliver results.
Character, Excellence, and Culture
The four and five-star recruits and transfer portals are great. Still, if they do not embrace this USC Football culture of excellence, character, and team to enable one another to act, to my leadership-trained eyes, we will not see winning back in the iconic Coliseum. Our coaches and student-athletes may be too worried about their reputations. Dale Carnegie famously said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, for your character is what you are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
Finally, a Trojan legend, a Rose Bowl, National, and Super Bowl champion, and my friend Riki Ellison said it best after this disappointing season:
“The thrashing by Notre Dame and closing the season with a resounding loss to our rival UCLA is the signature of the complete loss of USC Football tradition and culture. Sadly, the greatness of that culture is now a relic of the past with no affiliation to the present.”
I hope we return to teaching character, excellence, and teamwork. Tommy Trojan, the icon modeled after several USC Football players dating back to 1930, has long served as a reminder of the five qualities of a Trojan: faithful, scholarly, skillful, courageous, and ambitious.
Frank V. Zerunyan is a Professor of the Practice of Governance at the University of Southern California (USC) Sol Price School of Public Policy (USC Price) and Director of Executive Education at USC Price Bedrosian Center on Governance. Professor Zerunyan oversees USC’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) as the Director and University Liaison for the U.S. Air Force, Army, Naval Reserves ROTC, and Nautical Science Programs.
Professor Zerunyan’s principal areas of expertise include governance, public-private partnerships, civic and ethical leadership, land use, medical regulation, negotiation, and executive education. He lectures locally and globally to build capacity and foster leadership among public executives worldwide. He is the author of books, book chapters, and many short articles published nationally, internationally, and on USC Price’s “Faculty Perspectives.” Professor Zerunyan is often quoted in the media and is a USC resource for journalists as an expert in governance and leadership. He is also an expert on public administration at the United Nations Innovation Branch (formerly Capacity Building Branch).
For his influential advisory role in the Republic of Armenia, he was awarded LL.D. Doctor of Laws – Honoris Causa by the Public Administration Academy of the Republic of Armenia. Professor Zerunyan designs curricula and teaches at the American University in Armenia, Yerevan State University, and the Vazgen Sargsyan Military University in Armenia, with an honorary rank of colonel. He also teaches for the U.S. Navy at the U.S. Naval Service Training Command.
Professor Zerunyan serves on the editorial boards of the Public Administration Scientific Journal for the Republic of Armenia and the Ukrainian Law Review. He is on the board of councilors of Anahuac University Law School, Xalapa, Mexico (Consejo Consultivo de la Escuela de Derecho).
Professor Zerunyan earned his Doctor of Jurisprudence (Doctor of Laws) degree from Western State University College of Law and his Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University Long Beach. He also completed his advanced legal education in Corporate Taxation at the University of Southern California Law Center (USC Gould). He is a graduate of the California League of Cities’ Civic Leadership Institute.
Professor Zerunyan, trained and practiced as a lawyer, is a four-term Mayor and Councilmember in the City of Rolling Hills Estates, California. He serves on several city, county, and regional policy boards and committees. He was also a gubernatorial appointee under Governor Schwarzenegger, serving 38 million medical consumers on the Medical Board of California.