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Leading in Uncertain Times - 6 keys to remember

by tom theodorakis - Associate Athletics Director, Development at the University of Arizona
December 18, 2020

First, I would like to thank Bob Hamer and Sports Business Solutions for the opportunity to contribute. Now more than ever, you see the value of great organizations like this. During these difficult times, I have relied heavily on learning through my network. Thank you for always being a resource. I hope you all are doing well as we continue to face deep challenges.

I would like to share some reminders that I have found helpful in my role during uncertain times in our industry.


At the University of Arizona, our foundation and overall focus starts with well-being. Well-being from a student-athlete, staff and external constituent perspective.

In order to serve others, it’s crucial to first make sure that you are taking care of yourself from a mental and physical standpoint during this time period. Personally, I’ve leaned on many friends and colleagues to help navigate this crisis and it’s been therapeutic.

Don’t Assume

It’s a mindset. From my experience, some of the biggest partnerships we have closed as a department have come during a difficult time or transition - i.e. a head coach change, University President transition, unfavorable results on the field. It’s a mistake to assume that individuals you work with don’t want to step up. While some may want to “pump the breaks”, you may be surprised by how many want to participate to support your mission during a difficult time. Talk with those who are invested in your organization, thank them for their past support, share your vision and gauge their interest about supporting you now.

Relationships and Alignment

This was a reminder of how important it is to have strong relationships across the organization (or campus) and overall be a good partner. At the University of Arizona, we are fortunate to have tremendous leadership from our University president, athletics director, foundation president and executive team that are all in alignment on campus priorities and how to best to serve our students and staff. When we need to pivot, we are all able to move swiftly and adjust accordingly because we are streamlined on how best to support the University. Continue to help and be a resource for other staff members and your partners, we are all in this together and it will maximize opportunities with our constituents.

We are all fortunate to work in an environment that is a catalyst for positive change in this world.

Empathy - Being Flexible but also Accountable

In our roles, it is important to be empathetic to both staff and external constituents. Working from home, many of our staff are mothers, fathers, taking care of loved ones or have family on the other side of the country. We want to provide an environment where we can be flexible to people’s needs and schedules but also be accountable for the work that needs to get done. Same for our fans, be flexible (as much as you can) on timelines /deadlines and provide options to help support what we are all going through - they will remember it! It’s a long-term game that will lead to retention and possibly much more if you handle this situation with empathy.

Laughter and a smile go a long way in making someone’s day better - take your job seriously but not yourself.


We have found that during this time, the response rate from our constituents whether it is a call, text, or email, has dramatically increased. Take advantage of it! Continue to be a strong, authentic (over) communicator. Don’t be a robot, learn to share your thoughts and be vulnerable to others. Support a diverse and inclusive voice. Have open dialogue on your struggles because we all can support each other. You are going to make mistakes, it is ok to say, “I don’t know” and still be in a positive, supportive role. I believe all of this will help build trust and strengthen your relationships both internally and externally.

Have Fun - Laugh and Smile

Working from home presents many up and down moments, find opportunities to have fun and make even stronger connections with your staff and network. Laughter and a smile go a long way in making someone’s day better - take your job seriously but not yourself. We are all fortunate to work in an environment that is a catalyst for positive change in this world. Remember to be kind, work hard and amazing things will happen.

Please feel free to reach out if I can ever be of assistance.

Tom Theodorakis is the Associate AD in Development at the University of Arizona. He has his Bachelor's Degree from Syracuse University, his Masters from the University of Northern Colorado, and is currently in an Educational Leadership Doctorate Program at the University of Arizona. He's spent the last 14+ years in College Athletics with stints at the Air Force Academy and UCLA prior to landing his current role at U of A. He's well connected in College Athletics and is a great example of professional growth. He's also a phenomenal resource, you can learn more about him on LinkedIn here.