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The Chuck Wielgus Blog: Be Like Mike

12/3/2013

Mike UngerWhen it comes to business leadership, an effective CEO must be surrounded by talented and loyal co-workers.  It sounds simple enough, but the reality of attracting and retaining top of the line talent is far from easy.  

In selecting a senior staff team, I want to be surrounded by professionals who are driven, highly competent and loyal.  Many people claim to be ambitious, but I’m looking for the ones who are truly self-motivated and relentlessly drive toward results. Loyalty is important to every leader, but it’s a word whose meaning is misunderstood by many.  Loyalty does not mean being a blind follower.  It means being a trusted ally.  

Building a senior staff team began as soon as I arrived at USA Swimming.  To start, I knew I needed to find a “go to” person who could serve as both my confidant and trail guide.  I needed a person who knew the ins and outs of the sport, and who had the respect of athletes, coaches, other staff and volunteers.  I needed this person to talk openly and honestly with me; not telling me what they thought I wanted to hear, but rather telling me what I needed to know.

I found that person in Mike Unger.  Mike had been on the staff since 1993, working first with the National Team and then as the Marketing Director.  Over the next few years I moved Mike around, eventually putting him in charge of the Sport Development Division, the forerunner of today’s Club Development Division.  Shuttling Mike around from one department to the next broadened his experiences and gave him to the opportunity to see the sport through different perspectives.  It was a management trainee course in leadership development.

As my confidence in Mike grew, so did his workload.  As soon as we started getting our major events on television, I asked Mike to coordinate our production responsibilities. After jointly working to bring World Cup events to the U.S., Mike’s role eventually grew to serve as the Managing Director for the entire FINA World Cup series.  We launched the Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool in 2003, and Mike is now responsible for overseeing all event operations, regardless of where the event is held.  In 2004, we organized the first Golden Goggle Awards, and today Mike leads the staff team that produces this gala event.  

And then there is the Olympic Team Trials!  The inspiration for how this event evolved from a great swim meet into a major sporting spectacle is the subject for another blog, but for now I can say that nobody has been more instrumental than Mike in helping convert a vision into reality.  

Today, Mike’s job title is Assistant Executive Director. It’s a position he’s earned through hard work, but above all it’s a position he’s earned because: (a) he always meets or exceeds expectations in getting a job done right; and (b) he’s as loyal as the day is long.  Put simply, I can count on him.

Mike’s ability to recognize and help establish our strategic priorities make him an incredibly valuable partner.  He knows and appreciates our sport’s history and traditions, and we have cultivated a shared vision for the future. Candidly, I cannot imagine making an important business decision without getting his input.

Everyone in a leadership position, and especially a CEO, needs someone to Be Like Mike.  

Chuck Wielgus can be contacted at cwielgus@usaswimming.org. All of his blogs are archived at www.usaswimming.org:  click on “News” and then click on “Org News & Blogs”


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