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David Brandon's Guide to Leading Teams :: Video

11/4/2011 --

U-M's director of intercollegiate athletics shares tips for team leaders, on and off the field.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich.—As the former chairman/CEO of Domino's Pizza Inc., David Brandon, AB '74, brings unique perspective to his current role as director of intercollegiate athletics at the University of Michigan.

"Fundamentally the leadership role is very similar," Brandon says of his shift from the corporate sector to the nonprofit realm. "But if your corporate team screws up, you canít make them run laps."

During his tenure at Domino's Pizza Inc., Brandon led the organization to the largest IPO of a restaurant company in history. He oversaw an operation that counts 275,000 employees and 9,500 retail outlets across 69 countries. Today, he serves as non-executive chairman of the organization.

As the University's athletics director, Brandon finds himself on an entirely different field. He leads some 275 full-time employees, serves about 850 student athletes, and stewards a much-revered brand in which tradition plays a starring role.

Brandon, himself, factors into that storied tradition. He played football for the legendary Bo Schembechler and was a member of three Big Ten Championship teams at Michigan. Since joining Michigan Athletics as director in March 2010, this self-described change agent has inspired both approval and ire for a variety of decisions ranging from the football coaching staff to hosting the first night game in Michigan Stadium.

Brandon shared the following principles for "Leading High-Performance Teams" during the Ross School's annual Reunion Weekend Oct. 28.

Assess Your Team Members' Strengths and Adjust Accordingly.
You have to find out how people want to be treated and you have to treat them that way. As a coach, Bo had a great skill for assessing people to find out what their needs were. He knew which player would perform better if he kicked him in the butt versus another player who just needed him to put his arm around him. He adapted his leadership and his management style to get the most out of his players, and I've tried to do that as well.

Keep it Simple.
My rule is if your strategic plan doesn't fit on a single side of a sheet of paper, it's too cumbersome and too awkward for people to remember. You'll never have that daily reference to your mission, to your guiding principles, to your strategic imperatives. At Michigan Athletics, we are relentlessly striving to be the leaders and best in every way. That's our mission. I'll walk around to various areas with $5 or $10 in my pocket, and I'll randomly put it on someone's desk and if they can recite the mission statement, they can keep the money. If not, they get booed by all their co-workers. We demand integrity. We work hard to win championships. We remember what he taught us: the team, the team, the team. And one of our rules at Michigan Athletics is, if you don't know who "he" is, you no longer work at Michigan Athletics.

Be Transparent.
In today's world, leaders have to over-communicate. I don't think it's a good model to be an introvert and try to lead in today's world. People crave information. They want to feel part of something bigger than themselves. They want to be informed. They are so used to being bombarded with information and that's the leadership they look for. I try to come up with every way possible to communicate. Once a month my wife and I take a team out to dinner. You can't believe what you learn when you ask the student athletes what's going right, what's going wrong. As a leader, you have to communicate, connect, be visible.

Embrace Change.
I've always been in situations where investors or owners have come to me and wanted change, to accelerate growth and create value. I'm used to being a change agent. Tradition is a strength, but it also can be a weakness. [At Michigan Athletics] we were becoming somewhat complacent and myopic in terms of what was going on around us. To get a lead in facilities, results, and resources requires change. Frankly, I identified some people who weren't real happy about change and I suggested they go work at Michigan State. I have tried to create a culture of change. I think we have a better balance now of embracing tradition, but also understanding that change can be good.

Find Out What Inspires You.
When I get frustrated, I get up, leave my office, and go watch a team practice for 15 minutes. To see these athletes work as hard as they work, trying to get better with the spirit and conviction they have to represent Michigan, you can't help but be inspired. It's incredibly motivating for me.

For more information, contact:
Deborah Holdship, (734) 647-4626,