October Leadership Lunch and Learn - Guest Post by Ryan Bradley

Last week I had the privilege of sharing at a Lunch and Learn with the Knight Eady staff in their office in Birmingham, Alabama.

Image Knight Eady’s Chief Marketing Officer, Michael Eady, and I have known each other since our college days. When I accepted a job at the University of Alabama in the summer of 2016, Michael was one of the first people to reach out and welcome me to The Capstone. I’ve enjoyed learning about all the great work he and his team are doing, and I was honored when he asked me to participate in their Lunch and Learn series.

My talk focused on the story of my career path, and I attempted to share of few of the things I’ve learned at each stop along the way.

In my current role at UA, I’m responsible for leading a large team of content producers in the areas of video, photography, graphic design, marketing and branding. We are tasked with telling the UA story and elevating the brand of our institution in creative and dynamic ways. Through this experience, I’ve learned to identify some of the essential ingredients for building a strong team.

Image It starts with trust. Author Simon Sinek says, “A team is not a group of people that work together. A team is a group of people that trust each other.” I’ve found trust to be a critical component when establishing a foundation for your team. Without trust, your other efforts to build a team can be compromised and are likely to crumble when you face adversity. We also touched on the importance of communication (listen to understand, not just to respond) and the value of vision (everyone in the organization must understand and be reminded of the vision or the why of your organization).

Prior to moving to Alabama, I spent one eventful year working in the athletics department at the University of Missouri. A lot transpired on the Mizzou campus during my tenure, and some of my biggest takeaways from that experience centered on how to deal with and grow through adversity. I learned to stop asking, “How can I get out of this difficult circumstance?” and instead to start asking, “What can I learn from it?” We don’t grow where we’re comfortable. In fact, often our biggest problems turn out to be our biggest opportunities. Although I wouldn’t have volunteered for some of the trials I faced at Mizzou, they forced me to get out of my comfort zone, to reevaluate my priorities and to more clearly discover my purpose.

Before joining Mizzou, I spent some time as the Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Relations at the University of Memphis. My primary mission was to market a proud program in the midst of a changing landscape in major college athletics. At Memphis, I learned the importance of taking risks. Working in a professional sports market in the heart of SEC Country, we couldn’t afford to market our programs in a safe or traditional way. Taking risks was a necessity if we were going to stand out and increase our visibility in an urban market.

Not all of my marketing ideas worked to perfection (see Memphis Madness entertainment), but despite a few setbacks, we were not deterred and continued to push the envelope. Our efforts paid off when head football coach Justin Fuente endorsed the marketing slogan, “Wait ‘Til This Year” prior to the 2014 campaign. The Tigers were coming off a 3-9 season and the outside world held modest expectations for 2014. We knew pushing out a bold marketing campaign would generate buzz, but could also lead to ridicule and mockery if the team didn’t perform. Fuente not only gave us his blessing to use the tagline, he and his team went out and backed it up. The Tigers finished the season with 10 wins, a bowl victory, a conference championship and a Top 25 ranking. “Wait ‘Til This Year” helped amplify the success the team was achieving along the way and became the victory cry for fans and players alike!

My professional career started with a 7-year stint at a small college in northeastern Oklahoma, Rogers State University. RSU was in the midst of a transition from two-year community college to four-year university and had just hired a young athletics director named Wren Baker to lead the charge of establishing athletics on campus. Wren and my dad (the RSU baseball coach) recruited me to join them in the effort to help build the athletics program from the ground up. With no facilities, no budget, and relatively no clue what we had gotten ourselves into, we set out on a course to create something special.

It was at RSU that I learned how to define success. When you’re starting from ground zero, you can’t define success based solely on wins and losses, attendance figures and fundraising dollars. Those were all things we aspired to achieve, but we knew it was going to take some time. We learned to see success not as a destination, but instead as the simple exercise of remaining faithful to the process each day. We learned to celebrate the small victories, many of which went completely unnoticed by anyone but us. This shift in mindset allowed us to focus on what was directly in front of us and not to get discouraged by how far we had to go. A few years later, I had the privilege of serving as the Director of Athletics at RSU. Today it’s a thriving NCAA Division II program with 12 sports teams and some of the best facilities in all of Division II.

I feel blessed to have these experiences to draw from and hope the lessons I’ve learned are of some value to others. Thanks again to the great people at Knight Eady for welcoming me in and allowing me the opportunity to share. You all are awesome!

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