September 29

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Lessons from Leaders – Mitch Barnhart

David Millay

September 29, 2021

culture, customer experience, employee experience, fan engagement, fan experience, leadership, sports business

Are you investing time and resources to develop your staff into tomorrow’s leaders or are you training them to simply be order takers? For 2019 SBJ AD of the year Mitch Barnhart, his leadership style is a key reason he recently celebrated his 20th anniversary leading Kentucky as the longest-tenured AD in the SEC. 

Mitch’s approach to mentorship has produced one of the largest leadership trees with seven former associates now holding Division 1 athletic director positions. Mitch joined us to share his passion for ‘equipping people to launch people’ and guiding his organization with a true servant heart and integrity.

Here are three key takeaways from the conversation:

Develop Generational Leadership

Mitch’s achievements at UK represent a fraction of his impact on the college athletics industry. Seven former staffers now run their own D-1 departments, which is a testament to the intentionality and time commitment Mitch spends on growing and developing leaders. Mitch explains how empowering others to lead rather than viewing them as taskmasters will result in an exponentially greater impact. 

Hire for heart and integrity

Mitch uses heart and integrity to hire people and identify rising stars in his organization. “Heart,” he explains, speaks to someone’s gut, the ability to make the right decisions and do right by others in the organization. “Integrity” speaks to the brain, understanding the boundaries in which you can operate and the rules of the organization. 

When in doubt, put your head down and go to work

When Mitch first got to UK, many fans and insiders were anxious about him leading the department. They thought he “didn’t understand Kentucky.” But Mitch was given the advice to shut out all the noise, put his head down and grind. If you get caught up trying to please everyone, you’ll please no one. Sometimes the best recipe for success is to drive, deliver good work and let the outcomes speak for themselves. Don’t let all the noise distract you from what needs to be done. 

For more insights from Mitch, listen to the full conversation here.

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