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Pulse - Winter 2023 Coach Joni Taylor on Leadership and Returning to Your “Why”

On December 14, 2022, the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine® (ELAM) program hosted Coach Joni Taylor as part of the program’s speaker series. Taylor is head women’s college basketball coach for Texas A&M University. In 2021 she was named SEC Coach of the Year. She served as assistant coach for the gold medalist U.S. women’s team during the 2022 FIBA World Cup. Nancy Spector, MD, executive director of the program, opened the event with an introduction of Taylor and the evening’s moderator, Cathie Siders, PhD, a psychologist specializing in organizational consulting and executive coaching. Siders has been a consultant for and faculty member of the ELAM program.

Joni Taylor

Taylor began by recounting the trajectory of her career. After planning to become a counselor, she eventually realized that her goal was to someday be a head coach. At that point, she started being intentional about the roles she would accept and the opportunities she needed to make for herself. Her mentors, both formal and informal, helped fill in the gaps in her knowledge by including her in those aspects of the management of the team. Taylor also made those opportunities for herself. “Anything that I was lacking, I just asked for, or made sure I put myself in a position to learn it, so that I was as prepared as possible,” she said.

Siders asked Taylor to reflect on what she has learned about advocating for gender and racial equality. Taylor noted that she has spent her career at predominantly white institutions. When looking at the leadership of those institutions, she reminds herself that “people hire who they know.” She called on the attendees to surround themselves with a diverse array of people. She also noted that she endeavors to take the opportunity to be the representation she wants to see. For example, as the only Black head coach on her campus, she recently volunteered to serve on a hiring panel so that there was greater diversity in the group. At the same time, she acknowledged the importance of “challenging our leadership to make sure they start being inclusive in their hiring practices.”

In addressing the question of how she uses her position to support women colleagues and athletes, Taylor noted that early in her career she experienced colleagues who were not particularly welcoming of her. “My heart got broken a few times,” she said. “I vowed that whenever I had the opportunity to be a mentor, I would.” She recently offered to meet remotely with two colleagues who just got head coaching jobs this year, giving them the chance to ask her questions and share ideas.

Taylor’s closing advice addressed those leaders who are questioning their empowerment. She encouraged people to know who they are as leader. “People don’t want to follow someone who is different every day,” she said. “I can’t ask you to be consistent, and unflinching, and fluid, if I’m not that same person.” In addition, she emphasized the importance of delegating, saying, “I hire people who are smarter than me, and then I get out of the way.” She concluded with the advice to return to the “why” in times of uncertainty: “What was my purpose in doing this? If those things are still true, then I continue to move forward.”

The event ended with a Q&A, with audience members asking questions about interviewing effectively, managing a team of highly talented and ambitious individuals, striking the balance between leadership and vulnerability, and moving the needle on the disparity between men’s and women’s sports.

This event was recorded, and the video is available at

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