Tiffany Mitchell on becoming a leader, and the advice Dawn Staley gave her

Tiffany Mitchell of the WNBA Indiana Fever
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Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, the WNBA’s Indiana Fever and Anthem Inc. announced a multi-year partnership that will address racial injustice and health inequity in underserved communities.

As part of the program, seven Fever players are participating in a five-week “Athlete to Advocate” course, led by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Tiffany Mitchell – who has played five seasons with the Fever – is writing about her experience in the course for the On Her Turf blog. Mitchell’s first post can be found here

By Tiffany Mitchell, as told to Alex Azzi 

After our first class about philanthropy, we spent the next session discussing leadership, power, and authority.

To start the conversation, we all wrote down our own definition of what we think a leader is.

I wrote that I thought a leader is someone who changes the dynamic of people around them, for the greater good of the group.

One of my teammates had a definition that I also really liked: that the best leaders build relationships and have the trust and respect of the group that they’re leading.

I think we’ve all been around people who are leaders by default, but the group doesn’t necessarily trust them.

To be a good leader, not everyone has to like you. You might have to say something that someone doesn’t want to hear, but they still have to be able to trust you, and respect you.

I’ve considered myself a leader since I was a teenager. But I used to always lead by example, rather than speaking up.

When I was a rookie in the WNBA, my college coach, Coach Staley told me that if I wanted to be more efficient and have a bigger impact on the court, I would need to be more vocal.

It was tough because I was the youngest player on the team. I didn’t want to tell the veterans what to do. But I realized that – even as a rookie – if I knew something that would benefit the team, it was doing us no good if I didn’t speak up.

While our experiences on the court influenced our conversation about leadership, we aren’t just basketball players.

There are plenty of people who say that athletes shouldn’t speak up about topics outside of sport. But all of us have lived our own experience. People lead based on their own expertise, knowledge, and skills. There’s a lot of soft-spoken leaders too; you don’t always have to be the loudest one in the room.

And the people who are saying ‘shut up and dribble,’ they’re not Black, they’re not women, they’re not athletes. They aren’t living the day-to-day lives that we are.

Throughout the course, I’ve been taking lots of notes. It makes me feel like I’m back in school. But I know that even once the class is over, I want to use what I’ve learned to make something from it.

RELATED: Layshia Clarendon on why cisgender women need to lead the fight for trans inclusion in sports

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