Some may question what sports have to do with pupil transportation, but after the keynote presentation from renowned sportswriter and speaker Ross Bernstein on Monday, attendees don’t have to guess at the similarities.

Bernstein brought attendees of the STN EXPO Virtual conference along for a ballgame. He compared sports to businesses and advised leaders to look at their operations from above the playing field, similar to fans at the stadium. His presentation “Champions Code: Achieve Success Through Unorthodox Methods,” broke down what it means to be a champion and how-to bring success to one’s operation.

He shared five ideas to drive morale and generate momentum, not only within an organization but also within oneself.

The first way is through team building. He said there are two ways to obtain talent, either develop it or buy it. His baseball hometown team the Minnesota Twins created an organizational way, similar to what rival the Oakland A’s did, as recounted in the 2011 movie, “Moneyball.”

Bernstein explained because baseball doesn’t have a salary cap that limits how much teams can pay their players, large market organizations are oftentimes able to buy the best players. But from the mid-1980s until 2001, Twins Manager Tom Kelly had to develop his.

The Twins built a system that delivered two World Series pennants, one in 1991 and in 1997, despite not paying as much as the New York Yankees. The message for student transporters? Do more with less.

“What are you willing to do differently?” Bernstein advised attendees, encouraging them to be outliers.

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The second concept he discussed is to not cheat yourself. He said one sport that breeds tremendous character is the individualness of golf. He explained that golfers operate on a sense of morals, which govern their experience through rules, many of which must be ultimately enforced by themselves.

He advised leaders to foster integrity within the workplace and to teach employees to do the right thing, even when no one is looking. He said “see something, say something,” even if it is about oneself.

This third idea is to continually set and then evolve department goals. Once you set an achievable goal and reach it, Bernstein said to then raise the bar again and come up with a new goal.

Sportswriter and speaker Ross Bernstein shares leadership strategies on Jan. 25, 2021, during STN EXPO Virtual.

He then advised attendees to look for a purpose. “What are your goals for 2021? Do you feel like you have a purpose?” Bernstein asked.

He suggested to not only think about goals but to verbalize them. He also advised leaders to not work in their business but to instead work on their business. He challenged attendees to think about things differently and to potentially pivot one’s operations when necessary.

Next, he said, be willing to adapt and change. What is it that makes an organization so great? He provided the example of NFL quarterback Tom Brady, who leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Super Bowl following Sunday’s NFC Conference Championship win over the Green Bay Packers. Brady played most of his career and won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before leaving the team last season and joining the Bucs as a 43-year-old. And he shows no signs of stopping.

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Bernstein said Brady has excelled despite being passed up by 31 other teams in the NFL draft after playing collegiately at the University of Michigan. Being arguably one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, Brady continues to challenge himself every day on and off the football field. And his champion attitude rubs off, as evidenced by the team he now leads, which won only seven games in 2019.

“Individuals win games, but it takes a team to win a championship,” Bernstein said.

When reviewing flaws and the plays that failed, football analysts review footage of the game. When it comes to businesses, Bernstein said the same strategy can be employed He advised leaders to pretend their organization is a theme park map and to look at it from above. He said to find one’s blind spots and problems within an organization so that they can be improved upon.


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Sarah Stropes, transportation director at Rockridge CUSD #300 in Illinois, thanked Bernstein in the session chat for his insight. “Thank you for making me realize I need to build my team! What support do I need to grow within my department and outside of my job?”

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Bernstein concluded with his final tip, which is to adapt, change and overcome. He asked attendees how they were dealing with things out of their control, for instance how they were coping amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

He said during COVID-19, many organizations have had to pivot or else they would become obsolete. For instance, the school transportation industry quickly shifted from transporting students to transporting meals.

He also advised transportation leaders to look toward new technology to help them accomplish their goals as well as to adapt to new challenges.

In conclusion, Bernstein advised attendees to reflect on your organization and question what you can do to adapt and change it to the current environment.

Life is short, he said, and these are tough times, but anyone can control their outlook.

“Choose your attitude,” Bernstein advised. “Follow your line, your moral compass, your true north.”





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