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How to be a High EQ Leader: Inspire

Joe Kinnan, legendary Manatee High School Coach, photo used with permission Billy D Photography

How to be a High EQ Leader: Inspire

For this blog series, I asked some of my favorite leadership experts this question: “What do high EQ leaders do that sets them apart?” Their responses were informative and inspiring. Some expressed similar ideas, but each person’s approach added depth to this question. This is the third in the series. I hope you read and enjoy all of them.

Joe Kinnan was the legendary head football coach at Manatee High School in Bradenton, Florida where I was privileged to serve as the principal. Beginning in 1981, Joe led his coaches and teams to five state football championships.

His teams won 290 victories and 27 district titles. During the 2013 season, three national high school football polls ranked his Manatee Hurricanes No. 1 in the country. The Florida High School Athletic Association named Joe to its 12-member All-Century coaching staff.

Joe and I were never close friends, but we chatted occasionally. We were colleagues with jobs to do, but I always had tremendous respect for his ability to lead and to succeed. I saw in him a passion not only to win but also to create a better future for his players.

After one of his championship victories, I asked Joe what made his team so successful. He reached in his desk drawer and pulled out a single sheet of paper that listed his rules for coaches and players. These rules included, among others, expectations for respect and 100% focus and participation. He once boiled down his rules to “Do right, be on time, don’t miss practice.”

However, his success was much more than these rules. He was passionate about obtaining scholarships for his athletes. Signing days when seniors signed to play at specific colleges and universities were very important at the school. Joe held ceremonies in the school cafeteria and called in local news media to photograph and report on those events.

He set up tutoring and team study time. He instituted one of the first high school drug testing programs for athletes in the state. He instituted a strength-training program like few in the country at that time. He attempted to inspire his players to greatness both on and off the field.

Certainly, he was not always successful, but from my observations and my interactions with him, I saw a man of integrity who genuinely wanted his players and his coaches to be the best they could be.

The few times I called him to discuss football players who ran afoul of school rules, his response was always, “Do what you need to do.” He never said anything that made me believe he wanted me to be lenient with his players or that he would cut corners to win.

He saw his job as helping to nurture human beings who could work with other people and not just spawning stars who could win at a very competitive game.

In a School Board Journal interview in 2006, Joe said, "I'm driven from inside to want to do a good job…You have to be secure in your own mind to do what you think is right. Our approach has never been to win at all costs."

In that interview, he went on to say that his most important job wasn’t teaching X's and O's or winning games. It was teaching young people values like compromise, self-sacrifice, and teamwork...He said, “Coaches have an even greater responsibility to teach the values that will serve students well later in life."

Like most leaders, Joe was not fully skilled in all areas of emotional intelligence. His near-complete focus on his team prevented some relationship building early in his career, and he may not always have shown tremendous empathy.

However, he excelled in one very important emotional intelligence characteristic. He inspired his coaches and his teams to greatness far above what they could have achieved without his efforts. He touched them on an emotional level that prompted them to do their best.

I applaud Joe for what he created and accomplished. I also applaud him for his ability to inspire and touch students and coaches the way he has been able to do.

For this series of articles, I asked some of my favorite leadership authorities what high EQ leaders do that sets them apart. In response to my question, Dan Oestreich and Irene Becker contributed quotes below that express the need for inspiration and purpose that Joe has shown.

Dan Oestreich wrote:

Dan OestreichAbove and beyond the technical demands of their roles, emotionally intelligent leaders help themselves and others fulfill potentials for humanness. These potentials include such qualities as the capacity to love, to trust, to affirm one’s own passions and destiny, and to do the right thing. Their preferred legacy is not in personal accomplishment but what has been lifted up within the people they met and touched. They are in a constant state of learning about their own potentials, too, not just once in awhile or when the going gets tough, but as part of the everyday soulfulness they are known for.

Irene Becker replied:

Emotionally intelligent leaders inspire, empower and enable the best in themselves Irene Beckerand others; they are catalysts for the purpose, power and actualization of human purpose and potential.  Emotional Intelligence is the glue that binds great thought, action and communication.

Building emotional intelligence is critical to the self awareness and awareness of others that allows one to understand purpose in light of shared values and objectives.  If leaders cannot understand what is purposeful, meaningful to employees, clients  and the communities they serve, they are building a broken train that will ultimately derail.

For leaders to inspire, motivate and generate a sense of shared purpose it is important to:

  • Be clear on their mission and purpose
  • Build a team that supports that mission and purpose
  • Find and bring out the best in each individual
  • Hold everyone accountable—including themselves
  • Make their expectations clear
  • Be consistent
  • Continue learning and growing

Joe Kinnan has demonstrated his ability to create a shared sense of purpose and has inspired coaches and young people to reach higher than they thought possible. What traits do you see that inspire and bring purpose and meaning to others?

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To learn more about Emotional Intelligence for leaders, colleagues, friends and family, check out our Emotional Intelligence Portal. It includes a collection of articles, images, audio-visual content, surveys, organizations, websites, activities and products for personal and professional use. Some are available under Creative Commons licensing.

Photo by Billy D Photography - used with permission


Comments (3)

  1. Karl Jones

    Simple but effective message communicated & modeled continuously.

  2. Judy Marshall

    “I saw in him a passion not only to win but also to create a better future for his players”. Herein lies the answer. Those who live to serve others, who work with the sole purpose of bringing out the best in others….that’s what sets them apart.

    1. Lyn Boyer

      Yes, I agree. It is only when students, colleagues, customers, friends or family see a better future that they are willing to exert time and energy to follow a leader’s dream.

Comments are closed.