Last week, RPI residents gathered in the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center to listen to a speech delivered by Courtney Banghart, Head Coach of the Princeton Tigers Women’s Basketball team. Last March, Fortune magazine included Banghart in its list of The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. This places her among the ranks of world-renowned individuals including Tim Cook, Taylor Swift, and Mark Zuckerberg. In fact, she is ranked 43—two places above Jimmy Fallon. Banghart started her college career at Dartmouth College as a psychology major, and had no idea at the time that her talents would carry her down a completely different path. She wrote her graduate thesis, however, on the subject of sports leadership, and at the same time she took on the role of women’s basketball assistant coach at Dartmouth. Shortly after her graduation, she was hired at Princeton, where she turned a mediocre team into the best team among the Ivy League.
The premise of Banghart’s speech was based on advice for how to take care of you, some of which is derived from Authentic Happiness. She says that a person is the conglomeration of the five people they spend the most time with. Her advice subscribes to some major points: college is a fertile ground, dive in; you have to find your zone of purpose, which is the overlap between what you’re good at and what inspires you; how you present yourself is who you are; be kind, original, humorous, optimistic, and generous; focus on what’s important to you; sleep before 3 am, be grateful that you’re here (you can pay it forward by being someone’s good one of five), and have grit—go out and earn something while you’re here at RPI. But no single piece of advice stood out above the rest. Instead, what makes Banghart such an impressive and inspirational figure is the sum of all these small things—the wisdom and advice that she has to offer—which are applicable to both an individual’s and a leader’s responsibilities. One small thing, for example, is that three people sneezed at the beginning of her speech, and each time she made sure to say “bless you.” She never hesitates to give her all, whether she is coaching, giving a speech, or observing small acts of courtesy.
Towards the end, Banghart tied her speech together into one general message: a good leader takes care of themselves so that they can take care of others. She spoke at an exclusive dinner in New York for the 50 World’s Greatest Leaders. Here’s the plot twist: when she first received the phone call informing her that she was one of the World’s Greatest Leaders, she thought it was a joke and suggested that they could talk about the award in detail over dinner. It wasn’t until the lady on the phone said there actually would be a dinner in New York City that Banghart realized this was the real deal. She was asked to speak about the best life advice she had ever received, so naturally, she turned to her family for suggestions. After asking around, she realized it wasn’t that she had ever gotten any particular life advice—it’s that she had picked it up along the way. It was that life’s about two things: who you are and who you help—and college is about those same two things, which is why Banghart’s advice is so relevant. Her advice is so good, in fact, that she has been invited to speak at Fortune magazine’s global event. However, she has yet to accept or decline the offer.
After her speech, Banghart opened the microphone to the audience for questions. In regards to the challenges that she has faced, she said, “The more I’ve done it the more I’ve realized that others have given me the tools. Build your community.” When asked how she keeps it up and manages to get eight hours of sleep, she responded, “Be authentic to who you are. Live with empathy. You have one chance to do this right. Wake up every day and say, ‘I have one more day with these cool people.’ Make it count. Be all in. You can’t be all in all the time, but you can be all in for a lot of things.”
“The problem,” she says, “with being in a situation where you’re surrounded by so many smart people is that if you compare too much, you’re never going to be you. Someone’s always going to be smarter, prettier, richer, or from a cooler place. Or you could compare yourself to students from other colleges, but what’s the point? You don’t even know them. You just have to believe that you’re good enough.”
When asked how she makes the decision between doing something selfish and selfless, “I think being selfish is recognizing that taking of yourself means you can take care of others… If selfish means taking care of yourself, then I think it’s necessary for any good leader to take care of themselves so that they can take care of others.”
In a world that is becoming increasingly cooperative and team-oriented, it is clear to see why Banghart’s style has become so relevant and tethered so much interest. It is essentially servant leadership, which is slowly coming into favor of previous methods which were considered powerful, but at the same time were extremely self-serving and thus detrimental to success in the bigger picture, for society and in the long run.
The last girl who went up said, “After having this whole experience with you speaking and us asking questions, I can really, truly see why they’re asking you to speak at these other events. Because I think no matter what position, for the coaches here, for the students here, everyone has been able to take away something from this.”