“Some people just have a knack for leading. They just have ‘it’. The ones that have ‘it’ have lasted a long time in this league. Ron Lancaster. Don Matthews. Wally Buono. And Kent Austin has it. He just does.” – Orlondo Steinauer (Tiger-Cat Assistant Coach)
Last week at a YEP Hamilton event Kent Austin talked about his thoughts on leadership and team building. There were about 30-40 people in attendance. Kent Austin owned the room during his talk. I have no doubts whatsoever as to why he’s been so successful in his career. When I grow up I want to be just like Kent Austin!
I don’t think he was expecting ‘media’ in the room, it was more of a casual fireside chat, so I just wanted to highlight the major points rather than give some sort of blow by blow recap.
These are my notes on Kent’s leadership thoughts:
- Leadership is fundamentally about influencing other people (for good or bad)
- Leadership is not something you are given, it’s something you are
- Leadership is not a title or hierarchy, a 3rd string player can be as much a leader as any other
- What a leader knows only matters so much as they can convince others to buy into it and own it
- If others don’t buy into the leaders guidance, it won’t be as effective
- To this end, “culture trumps scheme” any day of the week
- Key to creating buy-in success is to ‘make it about the success of the player’
- Buy-in to advice is not a formula, there are different levels of buy-in
- Trust is also key to influence
- Maturity also matters to buy-in – do they see opportunities or complain?
- Can’t make everybody buy-in, some people just aren’t a good fit
- Measuring performance growth is more important than initial performance
It was striking how similar Kent’s advice and tips were to things I’ve heard from tech entrepreneurs. So it wasn’t surprising when Kent told us he founded a telecommunications company.
He ended his talk by making a point about the importance of culture that really stuck with me. From the sounds of things when Kent took over coaching the Tiger-Cats, the players and coaches were lacking a strong ‘locker room culture’. They needed a gathering spot – somewhere they could be together, not just to workout but to play board games together afterwards. Kent noticed a lot of empty space in the basement of the Tiger-Cat offices at 1 Jarvis Street and envisioned a shared space (locker room / gym / meeting rooms) that would give the players and coaches an opportunity to develop a stronger culture. Within a few days of conceiving the idea, Kent told us Tiger-Cat owner Bob Young was pulling out all the stops to ensure he had the resources to make it happen. And before long, players were bonding over playing board games together after meetings, and that all important culture was forming just as Kent had envisioned.
To me this is why community is so important. It’s about giving that all important culture an opportunity to develop – through the random collisions between people, peer to peer education and mentorship, and yes, the casual socializing afterwards (whether it’s beers, cups of coffees, or playing the movie Hackers on the big screen at The Winking Judge at 1am).
But the talk also made me think about how, that while yes, we have great spaces for fostering startup culture in Hamilton such as Platform 302 and McMaster Innovation Park, we don’t have a space specifically intended for tech startups. We obviously don’t have the capacity to pull off a Y Combinator or TechStars in Hamilton. But we do have the capacity for a shared space focused on and catered to the needs of tech startups.
The focus on tech specifically matters because the collisions and education that can occur when tech startups get together go beyond the business-end similarities and opportunities for ‘multiplicative value’. When you get a bunch of people doing bleeding edge technology work together they have their own form of multiplicative value. The stray thought that occurs after hearing a colleague’s talk becomes a group side project, and pretty soon new tech is being developed – the kind of new tech that becomes an unfair advantage for a startup.
I think it’ll be awhile yet before we have such a tech focused shared space in Hamilton. For starters, as of yet we’re missing wealthy benefactors waiting in the wings to support the initiative. And also, many tech firms in Hamilton are already very well served by existing spaces that aren’t tech exclusive. But when and if a tech specific shared space does happen, even if it’s 10-20 years from now, I suspect it’ll be a key piece of infrastructure that makes a huge impact.