Tai M. Brown: Forward Management

Veering left of my usual duties as an article contributor; I am pleased to have conducted my first Front Office Sports interview with none other than my friend and mentor, Tai M. Brown, Director of Education at the American Football Coaches Association & CEO of Spades Media Group, LLC. As co-contributor and editor to our upcoming book, The Blueprint, it is here that Tai (pronounced “tie”) expounds on the leadership principles that he has used to shape the careers of countless young professionals, including myself.

Tai M. Brown serves as Director of Education at the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) in Waco, Texas. He has been with the AFCA for almost 15 years. He graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Finance and a Bachelor’s of Arts in Communications in 2001, and received a Master’s of Science in Education with an emphasis in Sport Management from Baylor University in 2004. During his time at Michigan State, he competed as a walk-on football player, earning an athletic scholarship in his senior year.

Beginning his career in sports as an intern for the AFCA, Tai has ascended to his current position through creativity and leadership. His primary role as Director of Education is to facilitate an environment for effective personal and professional development for football coaches. Throughout his progression, he has cultivated relationships with a number of athletics professionals through volunteer work with the Division 1A Athletic Directors’ Association, National Association of Basketball Coaches, and a variety of other organizations focused on personal and professional development.

In 2012, Tai became an entrepreneur by creating Spades Media Group — Roots of Wisdom, LLC. Spades has been contracted by Baylor University, IMG, and Texas Farm Bureau among other notable partners to provide a variety of services. Specializing in personnel, logistics, and sponsor activations, the primary make-up of the Spades staff is entry-level aged workers.

Tai is a true student of the game. His passion lies in professional development through creative leadership. As a perennial volunteer for a plethora of sports-related organizations, he has redefined the principle of servant leadership and is determined to share the wealth of knowledge garnered throughout his career. This desire led Tai to develop an eleven-point leadership philosophy he refers to as Forward Management.

Forward Management Defined

Forward Management, abbreviated as F.M., is no misnomer. Similar to how radio signals are transmitted between towers, the primary question Forward Management seeks to channel among its adopters is: Are you leading for your own success, or are you leading to develop other leaders?

According to Tai, “There is no true right or wrong answer to this overarching question. A more actionable version may be better posed as, ‘How can we create and maintain an environment people want to be a part of, while simultaneously developing them into successful leaders in their own right?’ If you are successful in both undertakings, you will ensure the success of your own organization while promoting care for the personal and professional well-being of those under your tutelage. Further, if you do your job as a leader, those you lead will represent you well as they go on to become leaders themselves. Thus, the environment you create must be conducive to teaching an individual to be both enterprising and productive.”

Tai points to what he calls the Creation Phase of Forward Management as the most integral component of laying the groundwork for one’s staff to be successful. “There are a few considerations you should challenge entry-level hires with for them to successfully fulfill their role in your organization. These essentials include, but are not limited to:

Why is their job important? How can they succeed at the job? What’s in it for them?”

Considering his own experiences, Tai says the most successful organizations he has worked with boast employees who embody this trifecta of understanding the bigger picture.

“Establishing the “why?” is first and foremost by design. This is the point at which we as leaders are to fully explain the purpose of why we do what we do. Beyond that, everything you set into place should reflect that overarching purpose. In most cases, your human resources department will outline the basics. Leaders are then charged with taking it to the next level as opposed to maintaining the status quo.”

The Progression of a High-Level Professional

Tai believes one of the best things you can do as a leader of any team is to clearly define the responsibilities of the position you have given someone. In the same vein, it is only fair to them that you outline your performance expectations as well. “This effectively leaves no grey area when it comes time for staff evaluations.”

In our shared view (detailed in The Blueprint), we firmly believe entry-level professionals need to do the following to be successful:

1.) Effectively manage social dynamics

2.) Understand where and how their contribution fits into the big picture

3.) Embody the standards of performance necessary for success

4.) Always be willing to learn and offer suggestions (in some organizations, a lack of historical knowledge can be a benefit).

Cycle of Leadership

Tai’s goal is to develop leaders that go out and develop leaders in turn. It’s a cycle. Effectual leadership begets leadership development and so on. Tai refers to this process as Jersey Management. “Do you trust those you lead to parade around in public with a jersey bearing your name on the back of it? There is no more visible voucher you can offer an employee or mentee of yours.” As Tai details below, he is a mere cog in a revolving door of mentorship and leadership development.

“My professional education began as an intern when I was lucky enough to come under the leadership of Walter Abercrombie. During my early years, Walter mentored me through The Process of becoming a high-level professional. Essentially, he walked me through, what I now coin as, the Creation Phase of Forward Management. When Walter left AFCA, I began reporting directly to the executive director, Coach Grant Teaff. Coach Teaff guided me through the cultivation aspect of developing good Hab1ts.

Eager to test the waters of leadership, I started hiring students from Baylor University as part-time workers. This gave me the opportunity to put the lessons I received back in the proverbial bucket of leadership development. This worked for a while, but over time, the need for continuity became vital so we decided to bring in a graduate assistant who could stay on for two years. When [Will Baggett] surfaced as a candidate, we elected to make him the first graduate assistant at AFCA since I walked through the door ten years earlier.”

Tai continues, “That revolving door of leadership development hasn’t stopped spinning since.”

Connect with Tai on LinkedIn here. He recently took a leap of faith from a Rolodex to Twitter, so you can follow him here to help ease the transition.

In case you missed it, be sure to check out the precursor to this interview! I am grateful to have shared with the Front Office Sports community a snippet of the mentorship I have operated under since beginning my career in sport.

We look forward to sharing the breadth of our teachings in our upcoming collaboration, The Blueprint.