Finding Balance in Leadership

March 10, 2021 by Claire Higgins

The March NATA News features an article about women in leadership and how to address barriers and challenges to becoming a leader. In honor of Women’s History Month this March, NATA would like to keep this conversation going through a monthlong blog series highlighting our female leaders. Each blog will feature a different NATA council or committee chair, who will share insights into her leadership journey and what she’s learned along the way.

Resilience, flexibility and empathy are some of the keys to leadership, as noted in this blog with Suzanne Konz, PhD, LAT, ATC, chair of the NATA Committee on Professional Ethics. In this post, she discusses her path to success as a leader and what she’s learned along the way. Hint: There isn’t a clear-cut path, she says.

What inspired you to take on a leadership position? Were you personally attracted to this role for any reasons?

The words “leadership” and “service” are often used together because leadership presents a greater opportunity to serve. Through my education process, service was highly encouraged and, many times, required. Mentors and institutions advocated for giving back to the communities we both lived and worked in, creating service without borders and, therefore, without limitations.

The attraction to the NATA Committee on Professional Ethics was the ability to serve not only the NATA, but its members. Previously, I served District Three as its COPE representative before moving to the chair's position after several years of service. The uniqueness of COPE is what attracted me to the committee. 

This committee does not operate like the rest of the NATA committees due to its nature, which requires many members work as one to arrive at the same destination. The task COPE is charged with comes down to evaluating alleged misconduct and dealing with the complexity of human behavior. The nuances of this process of adjudication intrigued me, as did resolving complex issues with collaboration.  

What has been the most rewarding part of being a woman in a leadership position?

One aspect of my role as chair of COPE is to review the NATA Code of Ethics and update the language as needed. Improving the Code of Ethics' language to be more inclusive, along with other relevant topics whose time has come, has been a large part of this year's work. Making sure people feel and see they matter (and therefore have a voice) is critical to the committee.

I hope when the suggested edits are approved, the membership will see an improved document that progressively reflects not only the NATA, but also themselves. Some of the pending changes to the Code of Ethics came from crucial membership communication. The communications with members about ethics and the NATA COPE process are always welcome and rewarding.

Do you think it's important for more women to take leadership positions in athletic training? Why or why not?

Yes, women need to be in leadership roles, especially those men have traditionally held, to shine a light on equality and opportunity within the profession. Women in leadership positions inspire others to follow in their footsteps. People need to see themselves represented in the entirety of an organization, not just leadership. Everything. People are more willing to move out of their comfort zones when they can see others like them succeed. A diverse representation within an organization increases the value and capabilities of any entity.

How do you manage to balance work, life and volunteer leadership positions?

Time management, being flexible and learning to say “no.” I use a notebook for my checklists and a scheduler to stay on track regarding all the things I have said “yes” to during my day. Having a plan for the month, the week, and the day, indeed the house, is engrained in me. I prioritize items and tackle them in order. Pieces of the plan are fixed (e.g., classes, appointments, meetings). But, much of my time is not. I have learned being flexible during the day helps me cross more things off my list. I can move things around if the unexpected happens without too much disruption. Included in my daily plan is time for me. I cannot be at my best when I come second.

What advice would you give to women who want to take on leadership roles but worry about not having the time or finding that balance?

Leadership can be messy, so there are no clear-cut paths to success. One key to getting through the messy and inevitable tough times is resilience. Flexibility in how you approach your role helps. Balance is not about maintaining stern boundaries; it’s about being realistic with your resources at any given time.

If younger you was looking at yourself now, what do you think they'd say? Would they have believed you'd become such a successful woman?

I think younger me would say, "Wow. Who are you? How did you get here? Why didn’t you let me know about your plan sooner?”

My younger self would not believe I would be the person I have become. Few people left the area where I grew up, let alone went to college. Most stayed to work on the family farm or local factories. Those who did go to college came back to live and work. All of those options and choices I respect but that wasn’t the path for me. Growing up in a rural area, I was a quiet kid who stuttered and was bullied for it. School was not something I enjoyed. My younger self would be surprised I went to college, ending with a PhD. My education provided me with the opportunities to travel the world and meet countless people from those areas to develop my incredible network. My education is also what exposed me to the athletic training profession.

What is the key to becoming a successful woman in leadership in athletic training?

As I previously stated, leadership can be messy, with no clear-cut paths to success. Learning, evolving and adapting along the way are essential to be successful.

I am reminded of a quote by author Simon Sinek: "The rank of office is not what makes someone a leader. Leadership is the choice to serve others with or without any formal rank."

As a leader, you often do not have time to worry about your problems when acting in the service of others. I have learned a part of being a leader is empathy, the ability to identify with another's emotions, understand what they are going through and how they are feeling. Another key to success is teamwork, and even as a leader, your role is to serve and facilitate your team. By providing your team with the resources and the path to be successful, you too are successful.

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