Scott Vinciguerra On Leadership: Check Your Ego At The Door And Find A Mentor


Scott Vinciguerra started his adult life as a coach and quickly landed a job coaching a professional basketball team in Sweden.

Before long, he moved back to Central New York to teach, and then took broader roles in education, first as principal at Central Square Middle School. He moved to Cazenovia College to teach and eventually became director of the teacher preparation programs. Next, he became director of Columbia College for five years. Last year, he left Columbia to work full time at the company he founded, Vinciguerra Consulting Group. He still coaches and teaches, but it's all about leadership.


Vinciguerra's third book on leadership, "The Tao of Leadership: Essential Lessons in Wisdom and Purpose," came out in July. This fall, he's taking a pilot program he developed at Jamesville-DeWitt High School and adapting it for coaches and student-athletes in Section III. He's also working for the SUNY system to provide leadership development across SUNY's 64 campuses through the SAIL (SUNY Academic & Innovative Leadership) Institute.

Along the way, Vinciguerra earned an Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in neuroscience and optimal performance environments.

Tell me about neuroscience and leadership. 

The county seat for problem solving and critical thinking is the pre-frontal cortex or the frontal lobe.

We need that part of our brain to be matured and functional for effective leadership.

Other parts of our brain, older and seasoned, have the emotional parts. If we rely exclusively on those emotional parts, we're likely not making the most informed decisions for our organizations.

There's a lot of stress in leadership. Stress releases cortisol. It's a powerful chemical. When it enters your body, it should be there quickly and then exit. If there are substantial amounts of cortisol running through your system, you're like a live wire.

The decade of the 2000s was like the decade of the brain - a ton of research to see what's going on in the pre-frontal cortex. In the last five years, that research has been applied to leadership. There's a wonderful book about the neuroscience of leadership called "The Leading Brain."

The different pieces of neuroscience and leadership come together when people understand: Why do I think this way? What is my filter? Why is my filter that way?

What's your advice for somebody who is a new leader? 

There are lots of different considerations, but start with two things: No. 1, check your ego at the door. No. 2, find a mentor.

Sometimes our own pace toward achieving goals is driven by the ego. We don't realize what we are doing in the process. Set that aside, and go at a tempo or a pace that the organization needs, as opposed to what you need. That's likely to be more helpful.

Patience means you get to the goal, as opposed to making the goal a checklist. That's not always the purpose of achieving a goal. It's about the journey and the lessons that you can learn along the way - if you can be patient enough. That means you have to be tactful. You have to listen. You have to be respectful. You learn to embrace different types of leadership skills.

A mentor is a trusted advisor. A mentor can challenge you. They will be able to reflect on those experiences that they've had and provide some guidance for you. 

Anything else? 

As a new leader, your world can get very small very quickly. Realize that you're not the only leader. You're not alone.

A leader who wants to get better learns to pick up the phone. They learn to do something with another leader who has a similar experience. They share their experiences.

That's when you will realize that you are not alone. There are people, even right down the hall from you, who can be a resource. But you have to have the courage to reach out.

When you demonstrate that courage, the perception of you changes. If you sit in your office with the door closed all day, there's a perception. 

What does it say when somebody sits in the office with the door closed all day? 

Well, it could say a lot of different things. It could say that they feel isolated, that they don't feel supported. It could also say that they're frustrated. It could mean they truly are busy. With a physically closed door, you can still have an open-door policy.

What are the qualities of an effective or admirable leader? 

I don't think we have enough time to go through all of them. (Laughs) But at this stage of my career I would advocate being agile and being nimble.

You need a broad range of leadership skills. If you're able to use one in one way and then pivot and use a different one in an equally effective way, you're being agile and being nimble.

When I started the company full time, a year ago, the idea was corporate leadership. That was really the nutshell.

In just one year, we've got a corporate and education leadership division, we've got a government contracting division, we've got sports and athletics leadership.

Had I stayed in that tiny box, I never would have seen the untapped markets. I learned to be agile and to take a skill set and apply it in a different way, to be nimble. That's provided opportunity, not just for me personally, but for the people that we're going to be affecting.

What are the attributes of poor leadership? 

Not asking good questions. Thinking that you have all the answers.

A good leader is open to conversation and figures out how to ask the right question. The most successful innovative thinkers weren't asking a single question. They left the table open for many questions. And it was OK, it was safe. They create an environment of safety, of trust. It's OK to have an idea that doesn't really fit, because that idea might come back later on and be something dynamic. 

What should a leader do to spark innovation? 

Communicate. They communicate with the people that they're working with or working for. There is somebody in the organization that understands the systems better than you do because of their history, training, experience. So, ask them. Go to the people.

My grandfather taught me early on: Go to the people. Find out what their needs are.

That means the leader becomes vulnerable. That vulnerability sends a message. It's unrealistic for the leader to know it all.

When the leader creates safety and puts themselves out there as the vulnerable one, the dynamic switches. The dynamic does a 180. Vulnerability is a strength. Most new leaders still have a difficult time with that because they don't see vulnerability as a quality within leadership.

It embraces the idea that you're selfless. Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa were vulnerable people. They were also selfless in their way. We would not have a problem talking about them as leaders.

Tell me about early leadership roles and influences. 

I was in Boy Scouts. I was an altar boy. Primarily, it was through sports and athletics that I was given responsibility of organizing small groups and teams of people.

I went to high school at Paul V. Moore High School at Central Square. (Class of 1987) I was shooting guard, point guard. I was the 12th man on a 10-man roster. (Laughs)

In high school, there were some teachers who provided mentorship and gave me the confidence to be resilient. I learned that if I can help you to get to where your passions are, your life is going to be different. You're going to have a different filter on the way you see and approach life when you have a passion. If I can help to bring that and foster that in you, then I'm doing my job.

My first career was as a coach. I coached basketball, cross country, track & field, and eventually made my way to Sweden where I was head coach of a men's professional basketball team in Lidingo, just north of Stockholm.

When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was be a basketball coach. In 1994, I'm 24 years old, and I've lived my life's dream. Now what?

I could have stayed in Sweden and had a nice life. My classroom was a basketball court. But, there was a different calling in me. I wanted to get the credentials to teach in a classroom. I came back home and went to Le Moyne from 1995-97 and got my master's degree.

 All those different opportunities, gave me exposure to people. They taught me that making a blanket statement about something doesn't mean you are leading. If we can align our agendas up for common purpose, then we're doing a much better job at leading.

Mike Krzyzewski (Duke basketball coach) says when we point fingers at each other we're not a team. But when we go like this (holds up a closed hand), there are five guys together.

My grandfather (Ralph Vinciguerra) had an influential role in my life. He was an ordained deacon at Sacred Heart in Syracuse - the parish we belonged to until we moved to Brewerton.

He was a lifelong employee on the lines at Carrier. I saw the work that he did. He made his way up, even without a college education. When he retired, he dedicated his life to a vocation, which was service to the church.

I saw that as a model for me. Over the years, I've learned the work that I'm doing now is not a job, it's not a career, it's a vocation.

My grandfather taught me patience. He taught me how to relate to a variety of different people in their settings and meet them where they are. It's not leadership when you come in with your own ideas and think you've got all the answers. He taught me the different things I wrote about in my second book. ("Leading with Virtue: Competencies for Contemporary Leadership") He taught me the virtue of humility and taking that humility and using it in a purposeful way.

Those formative years, 10, 12, 14 years old, taught me things about people. The resiliency of the human condition and the human spirit is a powerful thing.

"CNY Conversation" features Q&A interviews about leadership, success, and innovation. The conversations are condensed and edited. 

Last week featured Ed Brennan, who was an executive in New York and in Hong Kong before he joined Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards.

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Source : http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2017/08/scott_vinciguerra_leadership.html

Scott Vinciguerra on leadership: Check your ego at the door and find a mentor