Her passion for college athletics has led her up a career ladder that most men would dream of! Gina Lehe tells Kraig Kann all about her climb in this lively chat with the NCAA’s Managing Director of Brand & Strategy.
Lehe kicked off her career with a communications role at a small college bowl game, which quickly led to bigger roles with the Fiesta Bowl, the Rose Bowl and then a dream opportunity as the first female hired in an executive leadership role for the College Football Playoff.
Now a lead voice at the NCAA, Gina shares insight on the pressure to promote and polish the brand of a major athletic organization, how to lead while also mentoring, and what it’s like to balance the role of mother and sports executive. By the way, you don’t want to miss her comments on the idea of being a “pioneer” for other females in sports.
Join Kraig and Gina Lehe on an all new edition of Tracks To Success.
Welcome to tracks to success brought to you by presentation partners. This is the podcast that brings you inspiring people and they're inspiring stories. How did they find their way to the top and how can their path help you do the same? Here's your host network, broadcaster, executive and entrepreneur. Greg can
Right now on this edition of tracks to success, you'll hear from one of the rising stars in college athletics or one-time high school volleyball star who saw dreams dashed, but he found her way into sports marketing PR and communications, and has been landing impressive roles. Ever since her professional track began years ago with a book on how to write a press release. She landed an internship with a college bowl game, got an unforeseen break and bingo. She was off toward the big time, bigger roles with the Fiesta bowl, then the Rose bowl, and then a lead communications strategy role with the college football playoff, where she was called the branding whiz.
2 (1m 19s):
Now it's a communication seat at the NCAA where she oversees brand and strategy with an eye on messaging and presentation. So how does a mom with admittedly lives off about five hours of sleep? Find a way to be so buttoned up. And how does an executive who says chaos is her caffeine stay so calm with the pulse of a mammoth organization writer, her fingertips let's find out her name is Gina Lahey, her inspiring story. And this addition of tracks to success starts now.
2 (1m 59s):
Well, Gina, this is a thrill.
3 (2m 1s):
I met you in New York. We sat on a panel together at the sports PR summit. I have followed you ever since and super excited. You're joining me on tracks to success.
4 (2m 13s):
Well, thank you very much for having me and it's an honor.
3 (2m 16s):
Well, thank you for that. I was gonna say, what's the first thing you thought of when you were first asked to join this podcast? What, what went through your mind?
4 (2m 27s):
Why me, that that would be my initial reaction to everything. You know, I've, I've been in my industry for 20 plus years and I enjoy staying behind the scenes for a reason. I, I'm not really one to be out front, but I appreciate the opportunity to, to talk with you and share my story. And part of, as I get older in this career path of mine, part of my giving back is to show and lay the road and groundwork for some folks coming up in the business and industry and women in particular on opportunities that are available for them to work in a sports field. And I, you know, I didn't really have that around when I was coming up, which is fine.
4 (3m 10s):
I had some really strong, supportive male mentors, but to the extent that I can be an advocate for other females in this industry, I'm all for that. So again, I appreciate the opportunity, but why he was my very first,
3 (3m 26s):
Well, we're going to sift through a whole lot of stuff. And by the time we're done anybody listening is not going to say why her they're going to say good job. Great get, so let's talk about the role that you have. We'll start with that. And then we're going to go back in time a little bit as well, and kind of talk through your journey, but right now, communications and brand strategy for the end C a big time stuff. We'll get to the journey in a second. But how often do you sit back, you know, and think about the magnitude of the role in the job.
4 (4m 1s):
Yeah, it's a, it's a great question. To be honest, I probably should pause and think about it a little more. You know, my biggest, where when I go there the most, I guess, is thinking about how I got here. And I know we'll talk about that, but I grew up in California in the Monterey peninsula. And when I look outside and realize that I live in Indiana, I'm married to somebody from Indiana. I have two children. Those life things come into play for me that you could have asked me even 10 years ago, would I ever be living in the state of Indiana? And I, I would have had a pretty strong reaction to that. So the life situation is one I'm working for the NCAA.
4 (4m 45s):
You know, I quite candidly, I either, some people you'll meet and say, well, it was my dream. I never really saw that as a pathway, nor did I ever see college football as a pathway either. So I'm one that really, I don't live by regrets. I take opportunities and make the most of them. And this is just another one of those opportunities that I've been allowed to pursue in my career and be a part of an environment where I actually make change and bring change forward to the table and create ideas and, and really have an opportunity to move the needle on perception. And that's, that's the best part for me.
4 (5m 25s):
I mean, I'm, I'm engaged by challenge. You mentioned it earlier, chaos. I am comfortable in that because when you're in chaotic turbulent environment and you're a PR professional or a brand professional, that means you have kind of an open slate, an open page if you will, to create change. So that's exciting.
3 (5m 49s):
Yeah, no doubt about that. Now I know why you're in communications. You just threw out about 12 of my questions already. Okay. So job way to forecast this whole interview before we really get this thing rolling. So let me just touch on one more thing, because you said, you know, you probably should think about this thing more, you know, kind of where you are, how you got there, all that. And we're going to talk about the opportunities that you provide, not only for yourself, but kind of showing others how they can get there as well, women, especially, but is it a pinch yourself moment maybe once a month or, or once a year to say, wow, here I am.
4 (6m 29s):
Yeah. And I, you know, I've only been at the NCA now for three or four months. Granted we've had some fairly significant historic moments already that have happened and I'm sure more to come. I definitely had pinch myself moments throughout my career, working in college football. And, and ironically, I guess, maybe not ironically, but they would all come on game day because you spend an entire year planning. And you're really kind of amongst a small group of, of people who really know what's about to happen when that game kicks off. And to see that all come out and play out. There's really no words for the amount of pride and ownership you feel and being a contributor to something of that large scale event.
4 (7m 16s):
I haven't had that at the NCA per se, as far as an event experience is concerned, but I have made it, you know, made a footprint in a fingerprint on a handful of things at the national office, because I was given an opportunity to come in with a fresh perspective. I'm somewhat of an outsider not having come from a college campus or a conference I was bringing in really fresh perspective. And fortunately those who hired me and those who I work with welcomed that fresh perspective, they're willing to take risks, think outside of the box and engage in conversation that perhaps isn't really along the same format that they've been doing for years, maybe decades.
4 (8m 0s):
But I think that's, you know, when you bring in people who come from different backgrounds, that's the magic and the beauty that can happen when you collaborate and ideate in different settings.
3 (8m 10s):
Yeah, no question about that. I always hear people say the outside the box, and I've been one who's talked about that, but I always believe you take the box. You Chuck it in the ocean and you, you don't follow the curve set by others. You set the curve that hopefully others will follow by being unique or doing something different or special that hasn't been tried. That kind of becomes your own, your own stamp. So I know you've done that. And I'm going to ask you about some things coming up, but let's go backward. Cause you already brought it up a California girl Monterrey, totally into sports, right. As a kid where you were you, the kid, you know, in your circle of, of young friends that, that somebody would have said, Gina Lahey, she will end up changing the world.
3 (8m 53s):
She will be a trailblazer. She will be, you know, running an organization. I mean, what would they have said about you back then?
4 (9m 2s):
I had, I'd have to spend some time and thinking how far back somebody would have to go to say that about me, but I don't think it would be a unthinkable or unimaginable comment for somebody to say, I, I definitely grew up loving sports. I have a younger brother by 15 months who likes sports, but was never really as into it as I was. And I really identified for whatever reason probably cause I was a daddy's girl and my dad was a PE teacher, a poach or referee and umpire. So he was living and breathing sports all the time. And I hung out around him when it came time to renew his referee certificate or whatever, I would quiz him out of the little books they used to print on basketball, officiating and umpiring and refereeing for football.
4 (9m 55s):
So I was really engaged by that. He was a diehard is a diehard Lakers, Rams, Dodgers fan. And so in the I'm going to age myself now, but in the early eighties, you know, they, they were doing well. Some of those teams were doing well and you know, I was dragging, you can look at baby pictures and I'm dressed head to toe and Rams warmup clothes. I remember when the Dodgers went on and had successful seasons and we he'd throw me in, like, this is a true story. He would throw me in the car and I lived in Sacramento at the time, but he would throw me in the car, dress me up in Dodgers clothes. And we would drive around the streets of Sacramento while he honked the horn screaming go Dodgers.
4 (10m 42s):
I remember those things fiddly, but I always, again, maybe it was because I got to do something special with my father that I've always loved sports. I grew up in golf Mecca, and I know this is going to hurt you and others who hear this, but I never really paid much attention or liked a lot of golf. I mean, I obviously went to a ton of tournaments. I went to high school in pebble beach and it sounds very bougie, but I did went to high school in pebble beach. So I was, I was grew up literally on golf courses, but I was interested in college basketball and volleyball and everything, but golf I'm really didn't pick that up until I graduated college, moved to Pasadena.
4 (11m 27s):
And ironically it was the only sport that my dad and I never played. So I ended up taking lessons by myself. I was living alone in Southern California and I thought, you know, my father and I played badminton over the years, tennis, bowling, you name it. Golf was like the last thing. So I came around finally, but I didn't really lean into that until later in life. But I loved sports, I guess. I can't really say that authentically because when I was really young, my father used to pay me to practice with the basketball team because I was the only girl.
4 (12m 8s):
So I would get $5 for every practice that I would show up at. And then he would give me $20 if I would play in a game because I was the only girl and I was, I was mortified that I was having to go out and play basketball with these boys that some of whom I probably had a crush on at the time. And it was the most devastating thing to be young and be the only girl playing with boys. So my dad knew how to work. It. I eventually came around and basketball certainly became my, my real true love, but it's always been an, a part of my life.
3 (12m 45s):
Okay. There's so many different directions I could go right now. First of all, there's so many guys out there that are really hacked off cause they never got paid to play at that age. Okay. So your dad's a really cool guy and I know you guys are tight and all that stuff, but you've also hurt me on the golf thing. So what you're basically telling me is that you can tell me a lot more about Steve Garvey. Ron, say Orel, Hershiser Steve Sachs guys like that. Then you could about Nicholas Trevino Palm or a couples tiger. Is that fair?
4 (13m 15s):
I know, I know all of those guys, I was on the 18th at pebble beach when tiger won. I mean, I grew up with golf and I, I was around it and watched my dad certainly watched it just going out and actually playing was never something that interested me in any shape or form until later in life. Now I, now I look back and think, man, if I could do it all over again, I should have gotten into the golf industry. They're always beautiful courses. They're in beautiful locations, things across the world. I could have integrated sport. I mean, it's kind of a no brainer now, but at the time I was, I was a young girl living in a tourist area in the Monterey peninsula and hated life.
4 (13m 57s):
And now what would I do to pause and live there with my families?
3 (14m 2s):
Yeah. That's ridiculous. Haiti and life around pebble beach or Spyglass or any of those places where we've got serious issues.
4 (14m 9s):
I told you, it sounded bougie. I own that. I know that.
3 (14m 13s):
All right. So you were obviously a pretty good athlete, volleyball star, as I understand it, but then everything it got cut short and you had a big time injury. I, I, I know that had to be brutal. You were set to go play college as a D one athlete. Correct. And then all of a sudden you got to figure out where you want to go to school because you just have to go for academics.
4 (14m 41s):
Yeah, I, so I, I was in Pepperdine at a basketball camp and about three or four months prior to going to that basketball camp, I had actually dislocated my kneecap during a basketball game, which was the most painful thing. Even to this day, dislocating a knee cap is, is brutal. And when you live in the Monterey peninsula and people aren't used to female athletes going down and dislocating their knee cap, my knee cap stayed dislocated for over two hours. And for anybody who knows medicine, all you need to do is straighten in. It typically will roll back in, but it was out for a couple of hours. I recovered ended up going to a basketball camp at Pepperdine and anybody who's been on their campus.
4 (15m 27s):
It's beautiful Malibu Hills overlooking the ocean. They've got a lot of basketball courts outside, so they're gravel. And I was, we were a man short. So I had switched into the three spot. I usually played four or five and I was switched into the three spots. So I was guarding somebody that was definitely faster than me and pivoted the wrong way. And it was done. I mean, I knew, I looked at my coach. I knew that I had done something worse than the knee cap dislocation and turned out that I had done. What I learned was called the terrible triad, which is when you tear your MCL ACL and PCL.
4 (16m 9s):
So there's really not much left at that point. No. And I, you know, there's moments of your life where you can vividly remember, and that was, gosh, I was only 15 or 16 when that happened somewhere around that age. I remember sitting in the doctor's office then bringing up the MRI, telling me and my mom and dad at the time what had happened. And then I remember the doctor and my parents walking out of the office. And I remember them having the conversation that, you know, she's probably not gonna ever be able to play again, you know, competitively and I sat and looked out the window and just like this most surreal, ironic moment of listening to the birds chirp and trying to like digest what had just been said to me.
4 (16m 58s):
And you know, it definitely changed my course of life, but again, I believe everything happens for a reason and I, I don't have any regrets. I wouldn't have had kind of those next steps in life. And I would have not never gone to Arizona. So, you know, it changed the course. I still have problems with it today. I've had four knee surgeries total on my right knee when I was 25, I got, it was suggested that I had my knee replaced and I laughed at the doctor and walked out of the office and thought, well, I'll deal with it later. I'm getting close to later now. So it's going to come back to me. But yeah, you know, when you have something like that, where you get, get something you're so passionate about taken away and at that young of an age, it's really hard to digest, but now I can look back and at the time it was like, all right, well now I have the even bigger chip on my shoulder of what's next.
4 (17m 55s):
You know, what can I do to prove myself to remain competitive in that? And that's really what kind of drove me into finding a place, a spot if you will, to work in sports so that I could still feel like I was part of a team. I was a contributor. I was competitive. And so all those things I learned playing sports and being around sports, growing up really fed into the career opportunity and me continuing to push the field. So
3 (18m 23s):
Terribly sad story. And yet you don't look back with regret, you end up at Arizona. I still can't figure out by the way, bear down. When you guys are the wild cats, it makes no sense to me. I'll never figure that out. It's kind of like war Eagle, you know, and, and Auburn has nothing to do with the Eagles. It's the tigers. But anyway, so in that you're a communications major. I know you changed your major a few times at all. You get an [email protected] bowl, which is no longer a bowl, but, but you get an internship and then you catch this amazing break. As I, as I have read and researched that the head of PR quits and you're like, I'm in, right?
3 (19m 8s):
It's like, yeah, that just doesn't happen for an intern.
4 (19m 12s):
Well, the best part I have to rewind a little bit. So I I've shared, obviously I love college basketball. I've always loved college basketball, basketball in general. So I was a freshman on campus at university of Arizona. And we had newspaper called the daily Wildcat that had news in it. And there was a job posting. So I'm sifting through one day and casually reading. And I see this job opportunity for what I read as a basketball tournament. And so I'm like, Oh, I'm in, okay. This is pre internet computers, all that. So I submit a resume and I must've used a typewriter to type up a resume.
4 (19m 55s):
Yeah. But it was that long ago. So if submit my resume, I'm so pumped, I get a phone call. They want to interview me. So I hop in a cab and go over for this job interview and I'm sitting down and the, the guy interviewing me starts talking to me about college football. And I'm like, what is he talking about? I saw this for a basketball tournament. So come to find out, there was a basketball tournament as part of the football game, but it was like this basketball classic associated with the bowl game. Now, again, I I'm from Northern California. I know golf, I know basketball kind of probably a little bit of football cause maybe the Rose bowl was on TV here and there, but it wasn't necessarily living in college football hotbed.
4 (20m 39s):
So I got back to my dorm and I'm thinking, I don't even know what he's talking about. Bowl game. I was probably three, four days later in my dorm room, got up, got a phone call that they were going to offer me the internship. And I was so embarrassed to admit that I hadn't read the entire job description that I took the job. I went back and read the daily wild cabinet. In fact, he did say it was a bowl game. And in fact there was a college basketball tournament associated with it. But, but I couldn't tell them that. So I accepted the internship because I felt guilty and shamed that I didn't read the entire job description. So that is true story.
4 (21m 19s):
How I got into college.
3 (21m 21s):
That's amazing. Okay. So another funny thing is that you actually bought a book on how to write a press release. Is that true? Come on. And you're like a communications person and now you're this big time PR marketing brand.
4 (21m 32s):
I had to go to the library Qantas because I got told when I, when I volunteered to oversee communications, I, you know, shortly after I had to write a press release and a press release again, what does the press release? I went to the library to get a book that would instruct and teach me how to write a press release. Yes, that's
3 (21m 54s):
A true story. I did TV forever. Then I go to the LPGA as chief communications officer and we got to write all these press releases. And I'll be honest. I looked over everyone, but I had an incredible staff. They wrote the press releases. I might've tweaked a few, but I still don't have that handbook. All right. I just, that's not, that's not my deal. Okay. So then from the insight.com bowl, I'm just going to go through the tracks here, the Fiesta bowl, then the Rose bowl. These are, these are places of employment, not bowl games you attended. Okay. I want to make that clear to our listeners. These are legit jobs, the Rose bowl, seriously, come on. I mean, this is an amazing track.
4 (22m 37s):
Yeah. The Rose bowl probably, you know, after I graduated. So the last insight.com bubble was played in Tucson in December of 1999, which is when I graduated from Arizona, the Fiesta bowl acquired the rights to own and produce the game the next year, moving forward. And fortunately I was hired on right out of college to move to the Phoenix area, to work for the Fiesta, stubble, all great experiences. I mean, learned so much of what to do and what not to do in some instances. But when I got called by the Rose bowl, you know, again, it was one of those things like totally honored.
4 (23m 18s):
I don't think I realized the enormity of the opportunity, honestly, probably until I was here in Indiana, I had just started dating my now husband. And he had mentioned something to his grandmother about like, Oh, Jean is from California and she's, she's worked for the Rose bowl. And his grandmother, I mean was like, I was walking on water. It was huge. She was floored. Like she works for the Rose bowl. And you know, in the Midwest, the Rose bowl is like, you know, the method of sports. And so that was one moment where I was like, okay, this is a pretty big deal. And then, you know, like I said, game every year, game day for anybody who has not been to the Rose bowl to the stadium, with the San Gabriel mountains in the background, typically the great weather it's really magical.
4 (24m 12s):
You know, Kirk herb street is a good friend and he, he often will quote like it is the most magical sporting venue in the world and he's right. It it's, it's truly something. And so I look back on those moments or on game day and I'd walk in again, when nobody's in there and everything's, you know, getting ready and it's pretty quiet and still, and you soak in like the enormity of all of it. But, but that was pretty special that first year in particular,
3 (24m 41s):
I'm going to say this right now, number one, it's on my bucket list. I've never been. So if he can ever make that happen for me, just, you know, feel free to give me a general. Okay. But here's the thing like, and you never, you never rode in the parade, did you? Okay, cool. Cause that's kind of a cool thing too. Right? So that would be also on anybody's trip out there. But here's my thing. And this is kind of a trick question. I know you're never going to answer this correctly, but I'm just going to throw it out there. See, I believe that the national championship football game should be held at the Rose bowl every single year. Like that should be the one venue that they just always go to because that is the place. And I know you can't say that because that wouldn't be cool, but the place looks amazing.
3 (25m 23s):
4 (25m 23s):
Yeah, you're not alone in that feeling. I mean, when we, when we were transitioning from the BCS bowl championship series into the college football playoff era, that was definitely a sentiment we heard around the country for people who have been there or for people who just tuned in every January one, a lot of people,
3 (25m 44s):
Wow. I can see the super bowl in Miami every year, but since see new Orleans would be upset. There'd be other cities too. So no big deal. Okay. Clearly you've got this trajectory that every guy who loves college football would take in a second. So you've made your market each stop along the way. Why, how this is how and how important it was because the college football playoff hired you to lead marketing and branding. And I believe first woman hired by the college football playoff. Is that correct? Yes, that is correct. Okay. Why, what was your well in your mind? You know, what was your it factor?
4 (26m 28s):
That's a really good question. I mean, I, I pride myself on details and from a branding perspective, even a communications perspective, I'm, I'm really truly a believer that every little piece counts and I use this maybe terrible analogy, but I think it's really relative of, you know, what I do wherever I'm at is like this 1000 piece puzzle that I'm constantly working on. And on some days I work on the grass on the bottom. Some days I look, work on the sky or work on the house over in the corner, but when I'm done, if one piece is missing, then it's an incomplete picture.
4 (27m 10s):
And that's how I've always approached my work and what I do. And things that some people may look at as small or insignificant or may attend. And they don't even notice deep down. I really believe that collectively all of the little experiences and all of the little pieces are what make the significant impact, the significant memory. So I, I know that not everybody operates in that mode and not everybody thinks that way, but I do. And I, and I always have. And like I said, I think for me, at least if I could identify one thing that that is the separator, that that's where I've made my Mark of, I care about all of the small, somewhat mundane details, because I really truly believe that without the collection of all of them, you do not have a complete product or a complete picture to, to present forward, to make that big impact.
3 (28m 4s):
I was told once every year at your review, ask your boss why they hired you. And it will always bring you back to the reason that you have the talent, the inner genius, the something special that they needed. And it will keep you focused on what you're supposed to bring to the table. Not that you wouldn't divert or add new tools, et cetera, but it will always keep you centered by the way, statistics that might be off by a dollar or two, but ESPN pain, $608 million a year for the college football playoff. That's a big brand to oversee. That puts a lot. I'm just trying to add pressure to your job. Okay. I'm trying to give you a little bit more to stress about, because you said you're great in chaos.
3 (28m 48s):
So with that, this is what people who have worked with, you have said about you, Gina Lahey, she's, she's super woman. And this one, I like even better. She's a beast, she's a beast. Okay. So that's your brand, that's, that's your brand, you know? So what, what are you most proud about you? I mean, when you hear those things, what does that say
4 (29m 20s):
Again? I, I don't know. I, I probably should acknowledge that I'm unique in the way that I approach my work ethic. I guess I was, I was actually talking to some of our, my staff earlier today of, I don't expect everybody to operate the way that I do nor do. I think it's healthy for people operate the way that I do. I'm, I'm very dialed in to whatever I do, whether it's personally or professionally, I just am a passionate person. I'm a competitive person by nature. So I don't doubt that people have said those things about me, but I also, you know, like I said, I think it's important to know that whomever has been on my team, whether it's been a staff, a volunteer, I don't expect people to get in that same mode that I do.
4 (30m 9s):
What I do expect is, is the work ethic. What I do expect is the dedication. And because I lead by example and I expect people who are on my team or around my team to carry those same ethics that I do and carry that same spirit of wanting to be great, be the best as far as it is in your ability to be the best and push the limits, push the boundaries, you know, being safe in communications and branding is really easy taking it, that extra step going another level is not easy because it makes people uncomfortable.
4 (30m 52s):
And when you change, when you make any kind of change, people experience discomfort. So I really demand a lot from people who work with me and work around me, but it's because I demand that same of myself. But if I'm not leading by that example, you know, it's really hard from a leadership standpoint, to get people, to buy into what you're doing. If you're not showing and providing the pathway for them to do the same.
3 (31m 17s):
Gina Lahey is our guest on this edition of tracks to success, tracks to success is brought to you by presentation partners, visual storytellers, passionate about connecting presenters with their audience. Okay. Sports business daily honored you in 2017 as a game changer in the sports industry game-changer specifically among, among women. So I'm not going to ask you why they did that. I think we know why, what I want to know is what your definition of game changer is because you just talked about how you are as a leader, but those who might work for you, what would your definition of game changer be?
4 (31m 59s):
So before I go there, if you haven't noticed, I hate talking about myself more than any entire world. It makes me nothing, not many things make me uncomfortable other than talking about myself. So thank you. Yes, success, a game changer. So that was another surreal moment of my life, I guess, because I, I often don't consider myself doing anything extra ordinary. I just care deeply. And I try and work my ass off. Sorry if I can't say that, but I do. And so I, I've never looked at those things as me being amazing, great extra, but I've, I've also seen and learned that not everybody operates that way.
4 (32m 45s):
So game changer for me being forward, thinking, being visionary, being not afraid to push boundaries, show people different avenues of how to get to a common goal, but not doing it along the same path or a thought process that everybody else does and getting people to buy into your vision, but be collaborative as part of that. Buy-in I do not have all the answers. I don't think I know everything. I also know that without the support I've had at every one of those stops that you've mentioned, I wouldn't be here. I, again, I don't think what I'm doing is extra ordinary. I used to tell people during, when I was in the bulb industry for so long, we had like a team manual or a participant manual operations manual on how to do a press conference and how to do this.
4 (33m 34s):
And, you know, I worked with people over the years who didn't want to share ideas or collaborate with some of the other bolt partners because they didn't want to steal ideas. And I would always say like, we're all operating from the same handbook. It's how you execute or you, or you invent outside of that. That's going to separate you and it's going to make, make that difference. And that's how I believe with everything that I do is the collaboration around the idea, whether it's my idea or somebody else's, you will not have success. If you think you have all the answers, I know what I'm not good at. I know that I don't have all of the answers.
4 (34m 15s):
I know what I don't know. And that's more important sometimes than knowing what you do now.
3 (34m 20s):
Well said I got a compliment once that I didn't even realize was a compliment. At first, I thought it was a slam. When I was at the LPGA, we had a big press conference, introducing a new sponsor partner for a major championship with the LPGA. And at the end of this press conference, which was pretty big, pretty cool. Somebody came up to me and said, you don't do press conferences very well. And I'm thinking, Oh gee, Hey, thanks a lot. You know, and their followup was, you do productions. That was pretty cool. And I was like, wow, that made me feel good because everybody on our team played a role. It was choreographed.
3 (34m 60s):
We, we thought of a way to do it differently. And it sounds like that's how you not only are in your role, but that's who you want to be there. Now, I want to get a little personal with you and focus on the topic of being a female. How important is it? And I talked about, you know, not following a curve, but setting one. How important is it to set a curve for women in sports specifically in high profile leadership roles like you have?
4 (35m 29s):
I mean, I, I've gotta be really honest because I get this question a lot, as you can imagine, I speak to different groups on panels and mentor young women trying to get into sports. And, you know, it's a very hot topic that people always want to dress like women in sports, working in sports as a woman. And I've gotta be really honest that I've never looked at it that way. And maybe it's being naive, but I have always worked and wanted to prove my work in who I was as an employee or as a contributor. And if I got the job, it was because I was the best for the job bonus to them.
4 (36m 9s):
I'm a woman I've never walked in to any door and I never will walk into any door saying, I'm a woman. You should hire me because you need a woman to work in X. I just don't believe that way. I'm not wired that way. And so it's hard for me to honestly have those conversations because I, I don't look at myself as like this pioneer. I do look at it as an opportunity to show people what opportunities exist. So in other words, you know, when I was first starting out and, and Erin Andrews again, is a friend, love her, but everybody wanted to be Aaron Andrews. And you know, when you talk statistics and sports and look at the number of college athletes who actually make it in the pros, well, the number of women who want to be a sideline reporter is probably even less than that.
4 (37m 0s):
Not probably it is less than that, and I never wanted to be in front of the camera. So my mission really throughout this career, working in sports is to make sure that women understand their other opportunities. And it's not just what you see on TV or on the sidelines. I mean, we have the same ability and capability to contribute to any setting. I have a five year old daughter who, you know, is constantly like mom, I didn't know that girls could play basketball. Mom. I didn't know that girls could be cooks and I'm like, honey, women can do anything, but I thought they couldn't play football. So she's a little, she's a little funky, funky like her mom.
4 (37m 43s):
But the point being is like, there's opportunity. If you want to work in sports, there are so many things that you can do. And so that's really the message that I've wanted to share. And if, if that's being a pioneer, I guess, you know, the, the one place, I guess, where I would edit that is being a mom and I don't care what job it is. Being a mother, working in sports, being a working mom period that has become somewhat of a mission for me because that, that has pushed me to yet another level of this super woman, you know, tag that I've been associated with of, you know, in anything in life, if you really want it, you'll figure out how to make it work.
4 (38m 25s):
And the last couple of years I've heard young women say like, well, I really want to work in sports, but I want to have a family or I want to get married. And, and I almost get a little like angry. Like you can do that. Like nobody said, you can't do both of those things. You have to have won it. You have to put in extra effort and I will help you, you know, help show you how you can do that. But I don't want anybody to walk around and not get into the sports industry because they don't feel like they can have both. You can, but it's like anything else in life, time management prioritizing, like you have to really hone in on those like basic skills and then you can do whatever you want.
4 (39m 6s):
In my opinion. Yeah.
3 (39m 8s):
We're talking with Gina Leahy from the NCAA hashtag girl, dad. That's that's me. I've got to, I love hearing these stories. I think it's awesome. As I understand it, you actually induce labor to make sure your first was born. So you didn't miss the big game. Is that true? Like, did you legitimately do that?
4 (39m 29s):
Yes. Yes I did. When my, when we found out we were pregnant with my oldest Adriana, my husband and I got the calendar out and saw that my due date was going to be like mid December. So, you know, you do the math at that point, like mid December, the first college football playoff is going to be a month later, second week of January. And I went in to one of my doctor's appointments. My husband was with me and I said, well, Hey, now I really need to have my baby by this date. So I'm going to want to induce. And she looked at me, she's straight face, honey.
4 (40m 10s):
We don't do that. Okay. We don't accommodate your schedule. And I looked at my husband was like shock and feel like, what do you, what do you mean? Why can't we do that? Medically? I ended up being induced. I did ask for it. I mean, I can't hide that or hide that fact. I did ask for it and not to the plan. I ended up having to have an emergency C section, which was super fun. So not only did I do that, but then I went back to work less than two weeks later. And at one point I looked at my husband and I said, Hey, are you okay with me doing this?
4 (40m 51s):
Like, I, if I'm, if I'm out of line here, you know, I need you to tell me because maybe I'm not thinking straight. And he's like, if I were you, I would do the same thing. I'm like, alright, we're good.
3 (41m 0s):
You guys are a great match. Now you have a big voice in college athletics. Do you have a voice at home? You know, how good is your messaging with those kids?
4 (41m 12s):
We're working on it. But you know, it's a day to day. I, you, I'm sure as you can attest you, you, as your children start to get older, you see a lot of yourself in them. And then in my case, I've a two year old and a five year old. And I think, Oh my God, what is to come here? Like I have, I've got a lot on the horizon still. So it's going to be an interesting with these two girls, but it's my myth. As my mother would say, if she were still alive, they are my payback of life.
0 (41m 41s):
1 (41m 45s):
In addition to hosting this podcast, Craig leads the Cannes advisory group focused on elevating communication for companies and individuals, company consulting and powering team and individual workshops, mind altering webinars. And Greg's inspiring keynotes for your conference or company meeting. They're all on the menu of services. Can advisory helps companies clarify their message, helps professionals build and showcase their brand and helps everyone present their best selves. So if you're the leader of a team or company looking to give your employees a game changing one day experience, or an individual who wants to become a speaker and presenter that gets other people talking visit Ken advisory.com.
1 (42m 35s):
And when you do connect, make sure to mention the tracks to success podcast, to receive a special discount on any of the can advisory services. That's can advisory.com. Now back to the interview,
3 (42m 53s):
We're talking with Sheena Lahey from the NCA, and I want to get back to the NCA for a couple of questions. You're in the trenches every day hired to be the managing director of brand and strategy is the organization's brand misunderstood by most people.
4 (43m 12s):
Yeah, it's a fair question. And it's really hard to create an accurate temperature on anyone's brand in today's world, because what people see is such a small sliver of reality through social media, you have voices that are amplified. That aren't always fact-based. And so, yes, I would say that that's the case. I do think there is, you know, a brand cloud, if you will, because you have a, you know, take any school. We'll use Arizona where I went, you know, my strong, strong affinity is to the university of Arizona, bear down.
4 (43m 54s):
I'll tell you that story later, bear down. My secondary probably would be supporting the PAC 12 conference, but not a lot of people are walking around saying, you know, we are the NCAA when in reality they are, you know, it's a membership organization. So the university of Arizona ultimately reports up to the NCA as part of the membership organization. But when you have kind of layers of brand over one another, the disconnect starts to feel even greater. And so that's one of the first things, you know, as I mentioned, I've here for three or four months, that's one of the first things I've started to try and tackle and digest of how do we close that gap of disassociation between the member school and the brand of the NCA itself.
4 (44m 47s):
And then the other part would be just the education around who the NCA and what the NCA does. I, I think there's a lot of misconception about how it operates, who the operators are. And quite honestly, I didn't know a lot of that until I came on board. So I always use myself as the temperature gauge with our staff. Like if I don't know it, and I've been working in sports for 20 plus years, there's a pretty high chance that a lot of other people don't know it either.
3 (45m 18s):
Gina is, you know, I spend a lot of time traveling and speaking and, and keynoted at the coast cider conference, college sports information director's association a few years ago, you were actually in the room, which was really cool. And we got to see each other. Again, my message was all about pushing out the brand story, being proactive, building relationships with media, you speak as well. You've already alluded to that. What's your message. I'm going to let you be like camp counselor right now. What's your message to people looking for jobs in sports or college sports specifically,
4 (45m 54s):
You've gotta be willing to come in and do the small things you, you know, and this is not everybody wants to say, this is like the, the era of expectation or whatever you want to reference right now. But I don't think that that's necessarily true to like young generation now, but you can't walk into this industry and assume title, position or responsibility that is at the top of the chart. You just can't and perhaps that's valid and true in any industry. I can only speak to sports cause it's all I've ever worked in. But I took my job as an intern, ju just as seriously as I take my job today as a managing director at the NCA, I've always viewed that whatever my contribution is at that moment was an opportunity.
4 (46m 44s):
And I was going to make the best of that opportunity. And I was going to prove to myself and who I was working for. And with that, I was the best at that specific opportunity. So kids who, young people who want to get into sports and you've gotta be willing to do the work. And I know that sounds really simple and it sounds really easy, but I always say, you know, start with internships, start with volunteering. If you live in an area, I'll go back in my life. If I, if I knew this was what I was going to do, want to do at the time. But if you live in an area where there's golf tournaments, where there's a bowl game, call them up, send them your resume and say, Hey, whatever their, whatever it is I can do.
4 (47m 24s):
I, I want to be available because when you fast forward down the road and you're applying for a job or you're sitting down in an interview and you're talking about your background, when I hear or see young people have made an effort and have been willing to do those little things, like go work at a golf tournament when it comes into town that tells me, okay, that's a priority for you. One of your priorities in your young life right now is to make a difference and be a contributor, no matter how small that is. And whenever you have that opportunity, seize it make the best of it. Because the other part of all of those little opportunities of volunteering, internships, et cetera, is the networking.
4 (48m 7s):
And that's the piece where I probably should have used that as a game changer moment for me to my relationships are the most important thing that I have worked my entire career on from being an intern to today, we have all of these amazing tools with social media and people thinking they have thousands and millions of friends across the country. But if you can't get in a room with somebody and have an authentic real conversation, you have no relationship. So the relationship piece is paramount to being successful in any setting. But most importantly, sports, it is a very, very small world.
4 (48m 48s):
People who have passion and love this industry will stay around. You know, that they will move to different locations as you and I both have, but you can always come back to those relationships. So when you have an opportunity to go intern or volunteer for an event, you are starting to build your toolbox of network. And that network will never shut up
3 (49m 10s):
A couple of things before I let you go. You are already officially multiple times on record. As saying, you live comfortably in chaos. I always say to people, we can't control chaotic situations. They just happen. What we can control is how we react to chaotic situations, how we carry ourselves, because most people don't pay attention to you when everything's going great. But when it hits the fan, so to speak, you know, all eyes are on leaders. How do they act? How do they walk? How do they talk? How do they carry themselves, et cetera. You've already told me that you don't consider yourself a trailblazer. I'll disagree with that because I think you've had an amazing run instead of a gold standard for women in college athletics at that level.
3 (49m 55s):
All those things are great traits. But if I think I know you based on this, you think there's room for improvement. So where can Gina improve?
4 (50m 7s):
Oh yeah. I mean, there there's always room for improvement. And as, as I said earlier, I'm very comfortable telling people what I don't know and where, where, and when I need help, I try and stay current as current as I can and realize that in our industry in particular technology has forced us to evolve in at a much rapid pace than other professions may have. So I need to read up on trends, study trends, lean on people around me who are more current than I am to talk through with me. Why something might make sense, how it may be applicable to what we're doing at that time. But absolutely.
4 (50m 47s):
I mean, I, as I said, I don't think that I do anything extra ordinary, but I, I care deeply. And that care translates into making sure that I'm keeping whatever I'm doing relevant and whatever I'm working on relevant and relatable in particular with communications and the NCA and servicing so many member institutions and student athletes, you know, you've got to stop and pause and realize that the world continues to move. Even if you're still kind of stuck in a certain space. And that requires that, that you're continually educating yourself on how processes work and how tools and resources can aid in that advances.
3 (51m 33s):
You know what? You were a lot of fun when you hosted that panel discussion in New York city a few years ago. And I got to sit there and take questions from you, but it's a lot more fun to be able to ask you the questions cause you're really fun to interview Gina. I cannot thank you enough. This podcast is called tracks to success. Your journey has been really fun and I wish you nothing but the best. The NCAA college athletics, very fortunate to have you with a big voice and a big purpose.
4 (52m 7s):
Thank you, Craig. Appreciate it. Glad that our paths crossed years ago in New York city. And I know they will continue to do so
2 (52m 19s):
In our conversation. Gina talked about how chaos is actually something she feels comfortable with. And that leads me to my one last thing. If you want to be an influencer, realize the importance of preparedness and being organized so that when things get a little crazy, you're the one who's getting noticed for all the right reasons. Crisis is really just a word. And if you allow it to overwhelm or suffocate, you people will see it. Leaders find a way to carry on with calm and stay focused on the goal while not being overrun by a situation that swallows up others. In my workshops, we talk a lot about the traits of executive presence, which ties into how someone carries themselves in the good and bad moments.
2 (53m 5s):
Staying one step ahead of the next potential challenge in your organization gives you a huge advantage over others, looking to become leaders who can be counted on. So think about what you'll say, think about how you'll say it. And most importantly, how you want to be viewed by others when it matters most I hope thoughts and the things we discussed in this interview will help put you on the track to success. And if you have a guest, you think belongs on this podcast, tweet at us, the handle is that tracks to success until next time. I'm Craig Cannes. Thanks for listening.
5 (53m 43s):
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You've been listening to tracks to success, brought to you by presentation partners, visual storytellers, passionate about connecting presenters with their audience. Don't forget to subscribe to the show for more great interviews and thoughts on reaching your highest personal and professional summit. You can follow Craig on Twitter and Instagram using the handle at Craig can and for exclusive tracks to success, content and news about our upcoming guests, you can find tracks to success on Twitter. It's at tracks to success.