Black Women in Business had the opportunity to interview a leader in college athletics -- Ingrid Wicker. Wicker serves as the Director of Athletics for North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham, North Carolina. Wicker is one of only a handful of women athletic directors in the University of North Carolina (UNC) system. (The UNC system includes all sixteen of North Carolina’s public universities, as well as well as a residential high school for gifted students.)
Wicker began by explaining her motivation for choosing a career in sports. “I started participating in sports around the age of ten. From that point on, sports has always been a part of my life. There were two people who introduced me to a career in intercollegiate athletics -- Judy Martino, former head volleyball coach at North Carolina State University (NCSU), and Dr. LeRoy T. Walker, former Chancellor of NCCU and world renowned track and field icon. They both gave me opportunities and encouraged me as a woman of color to pursue a career
as a coach and administrator.”
On Being a Transformational Leader
Wicker next shared her approach to leadership as the Director of Athletics at NCCU. “I believe that leadership should be transformational. In higher education, we are in the business of developing people, from students, staff, to our community, so we should be transforming lives. In that process, the very people that we lead have to believe in the vision of the university and our athletics program. My job is to ensure we have the right people in place, who are all focused on the total development of our students. I do everything I can to provide them with the resources to be successful and achieve their goals. ”
As the athletic director, Wicker supervises students and coaches of NCCU’s different athletic teams. She explained her approach to leadership. “My overall style of leading and managing is coaching. I believe that leaders must understand the people they work with, in order to empower them to do their best. Empathy skills are essential to good leadership.”
Leadership Has Its Challenges
As with most leaders, Wicker faces challenges as the athletic director. “Like many of my colleagues in intercollegiate athletics programs, our program faces many financial challenges. This is particularly true of HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). Part of my job is to raise funds to support a Division One athletics program. However, it is challenging as we are surrounded by so many competing forces like Duke University, UNC (University of North Carolina), NCSU , St. Augustine’s University, Shaw University, Meredith College, William Peace University and other non-profits. North Carolina has more than 10,000 non-profit organizations which rely on individual, business and corporate philanthropy to exist. So, just imagine having to compete for some of the same dollars.
“Another challenge, which is something I love, is managing and coaching people. I supervise more than 65 staff members and am responsible for the 290-plus students whom many of these staff members oversee directly. So, you can only imagine the challenge in ensuring a safe, fair and healthy environment. ”
A Day In The Life. . .
Wicker has a busy schedule. “My day usually starts around 5:30 a.m. with a workout, then I take my kids to school. I usually arrive at the office around 7:45 a.m. I have several meetings with students, parents and coaches. I also have university meetings, and off campus meetings with potential donors and current donors. Also, if there are any home games, I attend them. I try to attend every sport’s home game. During the spring it gets very hectic, because we have seven sports going on at the same time. Then in between all that, I pick up my daughter from school, take her to tutoring, volleyball or tennis practice, then go home.” Wicker’s day then begins to wind down. “Luckily, my husband loves to cook, so my meal duties are only about twice per week. As long as I don’t have any unfinished work, I will watch television until about 11:30 p.m. After that, I check Facebook, Twitter, play Candy Crush or Ruzzle, then go to sleep around 1:00 a.m.”
“My approach to my work: Be Curious, Move Forward”
College athletics in general has come under scrutiny in both the media and the public eye. Wicker offered this perspective when asked if this scrutiny has impacted her leadership style. “My parents always taught me about the power of prayer, to always do my best and always do the right thing. So, even in the wake of all the issues surrounding athletics, particularly Division One athletics, I stay true to these teachings and words of wisdom. So, at the end of the day, I can live with myself and make sure I don’t do anything to ever embarrass my family or the university.”
As would be expected, Wicker has a positive approach to her work. “I embrace work with energy, excitement and curiosity. My favorite quote is by Walt Disney – ‘We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.’ This is my approach to work – be curious, move forward. I face a lot of challenges and obstacles in this field, but there’s always a new path or the right path. As long as I keep looking forward, NCCU athletics will keep moving forward and doing new things.”