Global Humility

I’m always fascinated by the creative ways that people find to lead. Nick DeForest and his counterparts with the Globetrottin’ ADs have certainly found one.

Nick works in athletic administration at The American International School - Vienna, and a couple of years ago he tweeted about The Soul of a Team, which I co-authored with Tony Dungy. I responded to his tweet, and we’ve since corresponded over a variety of topics. One of those being leadership.     

As I’ve learned since, international schools exist around the world to serve students who often are not nationals of the host country, such as the children of diplomats, international business members and the like. You might have known just how many of these schools exist around the world, but until I ran across Nick, I had no idea.

After working at AIS-Vienna for a number of years, Nick and another athletic director friend, Matt Fleming (from AIS-Budapest), wanted to find a way to provide a resource for people like them: athletic directors and other administrators at international schools. Nick and Matt found they would all gather at annual conferences to exchange questions, ideas, challenges and potential solutions, but didn’t often have other regular contact.

Nick and Matt decided on a podcast as a resource with guest that could provide expertise that their subscribers could use - and frankly, Nick and Matt themselves - and so they launched their first episode in January of 2020.

Within two months, the world had locked down, and neither they nor their counterparts were in regular physical contact. In the meantime, many of their roles had expanded to include not only athletics, extracurricular activities and child protection, but also COVID management for their schools. Those questions and concerns were growing rapidly, and so the podcast episodes became more frequent as more members of the loose network began seeking guidance from each other.

They also launched the Globetrottin’ ADs along with two other counterparts, Chris Mott of International School Bangkok and Dave Horner of Inter-Community School Zurich. Over the past two years, the four of them have organized several online conferences with thousands of global attendees (serving students, coaches, teachers and administrators), and have also launched the Globetrottin’ Athlete Network to allow students to share leadership concepts and other information with their peers around the world. (Full disclosure: I presented at one of their global conferences for athletic directors in 2020, and conducted an eight-week professional and personal development virtual workshop for coaches, teachers and administrators at IS-Bangkok in 2021.)

What I love about their work is that it pushes leadership out of our normal assumptions of what it is and how it operates. Ultimately, leadership is influence, and so as they provide the exchange of ideas and concepts, they are leading. As was mentioned in the November 1 issue of Lead Read Today, informal leadership deals with leadership in the absence of formal authority from the organization - here, there isn’t even an actual organization, rather a loose community of people in similar situations. Some belong to European educational associations, others Asian or in other regions, but the goal of the Globetrottin’ ADs is to create as inclusive, diverse and as broad a community as possible.

Of course, as we lead informally, we need to be cognizant of our lack of authority, and consider the best approach to provide such leadership to obtain buy-in from those who don’t have to follow. (We need to keep that in mind even when we do have the authority, but that’s another topic for another day.) The particular approach of the Globetrottin’ ADs’ has been marked by inclusion and humility, a strong combination when it comes to informal leadership. I’ve appreciated the way in which they’ve made clear that the members of the community are usually the ones with the expertise, and that to the extent the four of them can help, great. Otherwise they’re happy to get out of the way. Their mindset, from where I sit, has been one that assumes that the community members are hard-working, bright and talented people simply desiring to better serve their students, and has treated them that way.

A solid set of assumptions to get the community to come along with you.

Innovative. Creative. Connecting. Humble.

The Globetrottin’ ADs seem to be onto something.

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