UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Bill Chaves: When your team WANTS to follow you, that’s leadership

Leaders inspire hope and collaboration, but need to bring energy to their work, too, Chaves says

Bill Chaves
UND Director of Athletics Bill Chaves talks leadership at the 18:83 Speaker Series on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

True to his position of director of UND Athletics, Bill Chaves came out swinging after he took the stage at the bottom of the Social Stairs in the Memorial Union on Wednesday, Nov. 8.

Rapid-fire, Chaves jumped right into his speech on leadership: “Good afternoon, everyone. This is great, pressure’s on, 18:83, holy cow, let’s go!”

Chaves was the latest speaker in the 18:83 Speaker Series, where leaders from both on campus and off visit the Memorial Union to describe their approach to leadership. The speakers time their weekly presentations to last about 18 minutes and 83 seconds, a number that coincides with UND’s founding year.

Each Wednesday, a new local leader takes the stage at 2:30 p.m. The speeches are a chance for UND students — and anyone else in the community — to gain insight into how leaders direct a university, a nonprofit, an organization … and now an athletic department.

And Chaves, who has served at seven different universities under 13 different presidents and eight different athletic directors (plus a stint in high school athletics in his home state of Connecticut), has seen more than enough to know what it takes to be a good leader. It’s that experience, and watching those leaders’ styles evolve, that has informed his own experience as athletic director, he said.

Those lessons seem to have paid off, as Chaves is now in his 17th year as a Division I AD.

For Chaves, it’s all about leading from a position of hope, rather than fear. He told the group crowding the Social Stairs that it’s his job to “find reality and set expectations,” but it’s always better when his staff collaborates.

Chaves said he frequently wonders what his staff members are thinking about. It’s all part of trying to do the best for the people one works with, not just the person one works for.

Being a good leader means quite a few things to Chaves, such as eschewing insecurity (it’s a sign of not being qualified for a role, he said), asking great — not good questions — and engaging with others for the desired outcome.

Leadership, said Chaves, “Is when people do not have to follow you, they want to follow you.”

It’s also important to be able to adjust when the day throws you a curveball. Leaders need to think through unforeseen problems and reorient themselves back to doing what is in the best interest of their organization. For Chaves, that’s the student-athlete, the University and the Athletic Department.

“Is what we’re doing more important than what we should be doing?”, he asked. “We should be asking that question every single day.”

Moreover, leadership is not confined to one person, but to anyone in a department: “You can lead from any chair,” he said. That idea also has been voiced by UND President Andy Armacost, who, in August during his State of the University address, said that everyone on campus should feel empowered to lead, to be inspired to discover their own inner leadership qualities.

Other leadership truths from Chaves:

  • Follow the “10-foot rule:” Be responsible for everything 10 feet around you. “You see a piece of paper on the grass? Go pick it up!”
  • The best job is the one you have.
  • Anyone can identify a problem. Be the person who shows up with solutions.
  • People need to believe in their job and show it through their confidence and energy.

Chaves also let attendees know of a few books he has enjoyed on the nature of leadership and team building. These include: “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, plus “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” and “The Advantage,” both by Patrick Lencioni.

Editor’s note: The complete list of people participating in the 18:83 Speaker Series, including upcoming speakers, can be found on the 18:83 Speaker Series webpage. Videos of previous speakers, including Chaves, can be found by scrolling to the bottom of that page.

Crowd gathered to listen to Bill Chaves speak
People attend Bill Chaves’ speech on leadership at the 18:83 Speaker Series event. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.