Mary Ann Rohleder ’70 was in a tough situation. A college wrestler had been arrested for something so “egregious,” that she decided to suspend him, which meant the team as a whole couldn’t qualify to compete in the NCAA.
“That was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” Rohleder admitted Monday during a community lecture on leadership styles. Held on The University of Findlay’s campus, the talk was one of several activities that Rohleder participated in throughout the day as the University’s College of Business Visiting Executive; she also spoke during business classes and to student athletes.
Rohleder, now retired but still doing some consulting work, said she enjoyed every day of her career, but as someone who held several collegiate sports administrative positions over the years, particularly at Butler University and at Indiana University, she was also required to make difficult decisions. While at IU, she noted that it was “like living in a fishbowl. Everybody in the state of Indiana thinks they can have a say in how it’s (IU) run,” she said.
To not only survive, but thrive in a male-dominated industry that’s as competitive off the field and court as it is on it, Rohleder honed techniques that kept her at the top of her game.
Educationally, Rohleder advised students who want to break into the business of sports to be diverse in their studies. Rather than majoring in only sports and event management, or sports administration, she suggested that they pick up another major in areas such as communication, marking and business, which are also integral. She also urged them to get experience by volunteering for UF’s athletic department; at games, races and other competitions; and in the community at large. Volunteer work will help distinguish them on a resume, she said.
Having a specific career goal is important. Rohleder told students to “have some idea of what you want to do if you’re going into sports. The choices now are so fast,” she said, thanks to technology and globalization. Jobs can be had in everything from social media to minor league marketing, she said, but emphasized that there are few of them.
The former senior associate athletics director also told students to “prepare to take the entry-level job and be there for a while. I started out as a group sales director and I sold tickets,” she said. Paying dues by working long hours and earning little at the start of a career is a hallmark of the sports business as much as it is for any other field, she claimed.
During her public talk, Rohleder mentioned Daniel Goleman’s six leadership styles based on individual intelligence, emotion and setting. The six include: visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting and commanding. She suggested that people identify their default leadership style by noting how they use it during stressful situations; strengthening the dominant style that is used during comfortable times; and developing other styles by watching experts and practicing them in “safe” situations. People over time will develop alacrity that can be used accordingly, she said.
Accepting positive and critical feedback from colleagues about leadership traits and work performance is helpful, and should be viewed as constructive, she said.
Developing a philosophy and mantras are also important, she said. Some of the mantras Rohleder said she uses include, “don’t’ compromise your core values of compassion, honesty, loyalty and integrity,” “Don’t rule by intimidation,” “Always take the high road,” and “firm, friendly, fair and flexible.”
Finally, Rohleder recommended that leaders “look in the mirror” occasionally. Self-evaluation and input from others should continuously be conducted and gathered.