Pam Borton sees leadership potential in everyone. She saw it on the court as the most successful women's basketball coach in the University of Minnesota's history, leading her team to the 2004 Final Four, and now in her work as an International Coach Federation master executive coach. But the best leaders know success rarely comes without getting knocked down, too — Borton included. An author and founder of TeamWomen, a nonprofit dedicated to elevating professional women, Borton lives in Pennsylvania but returns regularly to Minnesota, where her executive coaching firm is based. On the day before Sarah Thomas makes history as the first female Super Bowl official, she shares her thoughts.
Q: Sarah Thomas will make history as the first female official for Sunday's Super Bowl LV in Tampa. Are you thinking, "Hurray!" or "Good grief, it's about time?"
A: I'm thinking, "What has taken so long?" And I can't believe we are in the 21st century making this such a big deal. Of course, women should be involved. They are talented, smart, capable, as good if not better.
Q: How do you expect Thomas will be treated on Sunday?
A: Like a professional and an equal. I think everyone will be proud and she will be highly respected just like the other officials on the field.
Q: A minimum of five years of experience is required to officiate a Super Bowl. Does this mean we'll continue to see lags before other women join Thomas on the field?
A: I hope not, but maybe. Now women and girls have role models who have "made it," so they see someone who looks like them. It gives them something to drive for and others who will support and mentor them.
Q: What advice do you have for those girls?
A: Go for it! Find a way to get involved. There are camps and many opportunities to get started. Watch officials on TV or go to games. It takes training, practice and hard work just like anything else. And it's really important to find a mentor and a support system.
Q: What qualities do the best sports officials share, male and female?
A: On the sidelines, you need individuals who can manage strong personalities (i.e. coaches and players), who have confidence, poise, a strong presence, competency, and physical, mental and emotional strength. You also need good communication and decisionmaking skills under pressure.
Q: How is it going with recruiting more female coaches in general? I seem to recall from the University of Minnesota's Tucker Center for Research on Women and Girls in Sport that things remain lopsided.
A: These past few years have been critical, and I have seen more effort in hiring practices and who head coaches are putting on their staffs in both men's and women's sports. They are seeing the value for themselves and their players, and they want to be part of this growth for the individuals and themselves.
Q: Let's talk about your career, going from coaching sports to coaching C Suite executives. Any similarities?
A: It is the same, but without a basketball. As a coach, our purpose is to make a difference in and an impact on student-athletes' lives, helping them reach their full potential. I am doing the same thing for executives and leadership teams across the globe. I truly believe that coaching for 27 years prepared me for what I am doing today!
Q: Who seeks out your services?
A: I work with many successful individuals who just want to get better and perform at the next level. I also get clients who are struggling in top spots and wanting their teams to perform at the next level.
Q: There's a lot of talk about how women lead differently than men. Do you agree?
A: Based on research, women have more leadership potential and tend to lead more effectively than men. However, there are good and bad leaders no matter the gender. We all have different styles and approaches and it's important to understand how we all show up and why. Women leaders have a tendency to be better collaborators, concentrate on building relationships and seek different perspectives. Men leaders have a tendency to be results-oriented first; they take charge and promote themselves.
Q: What was your toughest day as a coach? What would you tell that younger self now?
A: There were many tough days as a coach at that level. Every morning after a loss, each time a player transferred, each time I lost a great assistant, a poor performance review and the day in 2014 when I got fired. When looking back, all of these experiences and events prepared me for today and how I help and support my clients and teams so they can experience their own Final Four.
Q: That's likely why you value resiliency so much.
A: The ability to bounce back and move forward from adversity is critical for life satisfaction and overall mental health. The good news is that resiliency can be strengthened and developed with coaching strategies that are implemented into your daily life.
Q: Last question: Buccaneers or Chiefs?
A: I would normally say the Chiefs, but watching Tom Brady, at 43 years old, take his team to a Super Bowl his first year has been inspiring. So I am going with the Bucs.