A Review and Application of “Winning the First Quarter” | Bardusk

written by: Kelly Bardusk


After five years, Jim Clements transitioned from President at West Virginia to President at Clemson University. After settling into Clemson, he wrote this chapter for the book Leading Colleges and Universities: Lessons from Higher Education Leaders (Trachtenberg, et al., 2018). In this chapter, Clements shared some of his thoughts and tips regarding a successful transition into a new leadership role. Having recently read the chapter, I mapped my own experiences to the reflection provided by President Clements.

Personal Context

My origins stem from recreation by means of team sports and wanting to help people live happy and healthy lives. Coming from a family of primary school educators, I first wanted to be a high school physical education (P.E.) teacher. However, college spring break service trips with Habitat for Humanity inspired me to be more engaged among the community. I completed undergrad with a degree in Sports Management and minors in P.E., Coaching and Wellness. A variety of influences and some thorough self-discovery inspired my motto “with people and for people,” which led me to pursue a Master’s Degree in Recreation Administration complimented by a graduate assistantship in Campus Recreation. Within two weeks in this new environment and culture, I knew I had found my career path.

I am now an 11-year professional in Campus Recreation at Clemson University seeking my Ph.D. in Educational Leadership. I am on a journey of learning and gaining greater perspective towards a destination of continued positive impact with and for people. If you are wondering what that means, me too! Perhaps teaching, perhaps higher ed leadership, perhaps a little of both. I am just trying to prepare myself for the day I decide I need a change. Currently, I am navigating a transition from middle management to executive leadership, where I am refining the way I work with all levels of staff in my organization. I have always found great comfort in leading my teams as a peer, but it is time for me to embrace literal and figurative rising above of the crowd.

As this article focused on transition, I noted concepts for how a leader can serve their followers. I appreciated the relatedness to this article, beginning with a sports analogy and being filled with reflections and stories. President Clements has a way of making a big transition seem manageable, and right now, I am challenging my mindset that I can do bigger, more complex things in my organization. The article brought me a sense of reassurance.

My Experience with Reflection

I am a very reflective person. I do not process information quickly, but rather absorb and marinate. I like to consider multiple angles and take my time in making decisions. With this strategy, I am able to confidently articulate my reasoning, knowing that I have made the best decision with the information available. Admittedly, this approach has also led to much “paralysis by analysis” in my practitioner-based career.

I specifically recall my introduction to reflection via journaling in my junior year English class in high school. The first 15 minutes of every class we would write about anything we wanted, and it quickly became my place to safely process my life’s happenings. I have maintained journaling practices for over 15 years, chronicling relationship drama, big decisions, goals, dreams, and everything in between. I even made reference to my journals in my wedding vows. If this is not yet a tool you use, there are so many types of journals out there; I encourage you to find one that speaks to you and give it a try. Some initial things to consider are aesthetic appearance, lined versus unlined and prompted versus unprompted pages. I personally prefer lined but unprompted pages for my regular journal and love a prompted gratitude journal. Gratitude could be a whole other topic for another time.

Building a Reflective Notebook for Personal and Professional Development

At work, reflection helps me make sound decisions. I think before I speak, which generally keeps me from rash responses. I primarily practice work-based reflection in my head, but I have developed a digital notebook to track personal and professional development topics such as time management and leadership. When I read a good article like this one, I note the key points that stick out to me and consult them when situations arise where I need some inspiration, guidance, or a grounding reminder of my general philosophies. From this article, I noted two concepts that stuck with me. 

The first was a clear and basic explanation of what your followers expect from you: “They are looking for a leader to elevate the good work already being done and remove obstacles that get in the way of achieving the institutions long-term goals” (Clements, 2018, p.11). Too many times we can focus on teams or individuals and “fixing” them when the problems are the obstacles around the team, not the players themselves. I recently attended a strategic mapping exercise for a board that I sit on where our consultant used a similar analogy related to racing. In a nutshell, while looking for a competitive advantage, instead of leadership telling the pit crew to tweak the tiniest things under their race car’s engine, they needed to be filling potholes in the racetrack that was slowing the car down. The product was good enough, but the environment around it was filled with barriers that the leader needed to remove to keep their team efficient and effective. Every leader should remember to fill the potholes for their followers. Of course, this requires leaders to ensure they are aware of these obstacles in the first place.

The second concept that stuck with me was how President Clements classified and described types of former leaders: bubblegum, ghost, or a consultant who knows how to step away (Clements, 2018). The bubblegum leader hovers and will not leave, the ghost is nowhere to be found, and the consultant is the ideal leader who can be reliably called upon for information and guidance but provides space for the new leader to create their own culture moving forward. I explore all of these ideas in the following section taking the ideas from the page to practice.

Putting this Chapter Refection into Practice

Fill the Potholes

As a higher ed professional, we are seeing a shift in focus to holistic wellbeing across the nation. As a recreation professional, this is language and practice that leaders have been using for the past decade. As reports of stress, anxiety, and depression increase to levels beyond anything ever reported, the entire campus community is looking for solutions. At Clemson, extensive dialogue has created a Chief Wellbeing Officer (CWO) position that reports directly to President Clements. She is in her first quarter, and I sent this chapter to her. There is a direct correlation to her position and to the quote of enhancing existing work and removing barriers. With that, there is heightened hope (at least for me) that our CWO will tackle this massive undertaking for our enterprise to accentuate what we do well at Clemson and rally resources. In my leadership role, I need to make sure my team is ready and able to contribute to these coordinated efforts when we are called upon. I am working on our internal potholes.

Do Not be Bubblegum; Do Not be a Ghost.

I lead our Staff Experience efforts for 20 professionals, 6 grad assistants (GAs) and roughly 350 student employees in our department. This is one of my greatest opportunities to directly work with and for people. An already an important job, it has been heightened since the pandemic created the Great Resignation and the nation has seen severe shortages in the hourly-paid work force. Recruitment and retention are key to performing in an organization, and much of my work thus far has revolved around Organizational Support Theory where mutual benefits result when employers create a culture of care for their employees (Kurtessis et al., 2017).

There are committees comprised of our professional and graduate assistant staff who are focused on the student employee experience. Over the past couple of years, we lost staff at all levels and have been re-building. On our team, 60% of the pro staff has two or fewer years of experience in our department, and many came from fields outside of Campus Recreation. I have been a part of our committees for as long as I have been at Clemson, and I did not want our area to lose historical knowledge and perspective, so I remained involved up to this point. We have now stabilized our workforce and recreated our foundation, so it is time for me to consult and step back before I become bubblegum. Ghosting is not my thing. 

Reflection Questions for Your Career

While I have outlined how I have used the guidance in this chapter to inform my own work, I encourage you to do the same. Consider these questions in your own practice and leadership development.  

    • How can you use reflection to your benefit?
    • How do you check yourself for leadership vs management tendencies?
    • How do you navigate each of the types of former leaders described in this article?
    • What potholes do you have in your work? Have you told your supervisor, and even better, have you offered solutions for how to fill them?
    • As you progress in your career, how do/will you maintain doing the things you love?

Reflection Questions as a Leader

    • When do you know when a staff member is ready to lead? 
    • How do you actively enhance the work of those around you?
    • How do you create an environment where team members are comfortable raising concerns and identifying potholes affecting their work?
    • Have you built a brand as a leader who can fill potholes, or do issues die on your desk?


Clements, J. P., (2018) Winning the first quarter. In S. J. Trachtenberg, G. B. Kauvar, and G. Gee (Eds.) Leading colleges and universities: Lessons from higher education leaders. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Kurtessis, J. N., Eisenberger, R., Ford, M. T., Buffardi, L. C., Stewart, K. A., & Adis, C. S., (2017). Perceived organizational support: A meta-analytic evaluation of organizational support theory. Journal of Management, 43(6), 1854–1884. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206315575554 

Trachtenberg, S. J., Kauvar, G. B., Gee, G. (2018). Leading colleges and universities: Lessons from higher education leaders. Johns Hopkins University Press.

About the Author

Kelly Bardusk (she/her) is a Ph.D. student in Educational Leadership at Clemson University. With over 10 years of experience in Campus Recreation, her passion is positively impacting others and encouraging a lifestyle of holistic wellbeing.