Curtis Janz describes a culture of servant leadership like a good virus.
Through his Lions Leadership Academy for student athletes, he hopes to identify leaders and potential leaders on every team, teach some lessons, and let the participants “infect their teams and spread the culture,” he said.
“I can’t reach every student-athlete, so I try to pick 35 or so who will make an impact,” Janz said. The group includes freshmen and seniors, team captains and people “who should be team captains but don’t know it yet.”
One night a week through the semester, Janz gathers the students. He feeds them dinner and gives them a chance to talk about leadership.
“I tell our kids all the time you have to be able to able to learn and able to lead. If you can do those two things you will always have a job, and probably a good job. The people across the street,” he said pointing to the campus’s academic buildings, “can take care of the learning side. We can take care of the leadership part, the character part.”
Janz said he begins the course by challenging students to identify three principles that will be their “North Star.”
“I tell them GPS is a great thing to have when you want to go someplace people have been before. But when you want to go somewhere none has ever been, you need to have a compass. Every new season is an unknown, a place no one has ever been before. You’re going to need to know where true north is.”
Janz integrates curriculum from Habitudes, developed by his friend Tim Elmore at Growing Leaders in Atlanta. “The kids are hungry for it,” Janz said.
The lessons are geared specifically to today’s young adults; they aim to tell stories through illustrations instead of words.
Dylan Hunt, a junior baseball player, said the Lions Leadership Academy has a diverse group of students, which has helped him to realize there are many different styles of leadership and different people will respond to different kinds of leaders. He said he uses the lessons he’s learning every day.
“I have learned how to better communicate with people during practice, in the classroom and everywhere in life.”
He said he also knows that, as a student-athlete, he represents the university everywhere he goes. “As a leader, I have to make sure to do good in school, work hard at practice, and try to carry myself well.”
His coaches, he said lead by example. Instead of sitting in the shade watching, “our coaches work hard and grind out every single day with us.”
Ellie Lehne is a basketball player majoring in organizational leadership with a minor in biology. She plans to continue her studies and become a chiropractor.
Lions Leadership Academy has taught her communication, trust, transparency, accountability, loyalty, and respect. The characteristics crucial to success on the basketball court, she said.
“Our team this year has a lot of new faces, so learning to trust and respect each other is going to bring us success this season.”
Janz believes that leadership alone is not enough. This semester he plans to concentrate on servant leadership.
“It can’t just be in the classroom; it also has to be in the community. We have to be in the community.”
In addition to asking for community service, Janz again this year will take student-athletes to the National Cemetry to see evidence of service to the country. They will spend an hour or more walking in the cemetery, which he knows will be new to many students.
He will try to get some active military members to discuss their service with the students, providing many with a new understanding of servant leadership.