Mar 8, 2018
Company Leadership - Dana White
Dana White, the CEO and general manager of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), was born on July 28, 1969 in Connecticut. Dana ascended from humble beginnings in New England to obtaining the UFC in 2002 when it was at the verge of chapter 11. What gripped me more than anything while researching Dana White were the many events that give personal, brief looks into a life that is not common or traditional. These events show leadership abilities such as earning trust, practicing self-discipline, having focus and sticking with his passion. These three abilities are listed by Andrew Cohen of EnlightenNext, as abilities that characterize authentic leadership (Cohen, 2011).
Dana White talked a couple of investors into backing him for the purchase of a badly run, underdeveloped, barely legal sport league with poor standards, no safety protocols, few fans, a bad reputation and little worth. He transformed MMA into one of the top sports around the world, worth now 4.2 billion dollars. He is keen, aggressive, and has decision making ability. These are characteristics that demand trust. For Dana White, however, the UFC is about more than money. It is about generating and sustaining respect for a sport he loves.
After arranging the purchase of the UFC, White implemented safety rules and medical exams, re-structured the image of UFC and the sport, taking pride in the education and intelligence of the fighters, as well as their physical qualities. He marketed fighter's athleticism and personalities by producing a highly successful, quality television series about them (Hyson, 2011). He carefully controls the image of mixed martial arts, as a now respectable sport, and he requires positive fighter-fan interaction (Hyson, 2011).
When Dana White took over the UFC, mixed martial arts fighting was not respected nor sanctioned by most States because safety and restraint was lacking and, in fact, officially discouraged (Hyatt, 2010). UFC marketing emphasized that aspect. It was unlike any other sport, because of this, and consequently did not have the wide appeal the organization and sport have today. A core value of martial arts training is self-discipline. To remove that core value is to remove both the sport identity and the martial arts identity from mixed martial arts. That is a big reason why the organization was nearly without worth when White saved it.
Dana White was threatened into a match, recently, by an MMA fighter who challenged his leadership abilities, ethics and morals as a CEO. Dana's emotional intelligence was shown in the way he was able to interpret the feelings of others, in this case the scorned MMA fighter, enabling him to predict his actions (Goleman 2006). Believing that the fighter was not expecting him to take the challenge seriously, Dana immediately teamed up with top MMA trainers to prepare to square off. The challenger's girlfriend kept calling Dana with revised stipulations, many having the outcome of decreased safety for the fighters (Hyson, 2011). Dana White was indeed emotionally invested because he knew that backing down or not being prepared could lead to embarrassment for himself and the UFC. After several videos of Dana training in the ring impressed other fighters in the UFC, the MMA fighter backed out of the challenge. Dana was prepared to do whatever it took to defend the reputation of the UFC and the qualities the company wanted to become standard in fight culture. In the end Dana White ultimately gained the respect of the fighter and much of the sporting world.
Dana White communicates the importance of passion to the construction of success. Although he was never an extraordinary student, he was invited to give a reunion speech as the high school he graduated from, 20 years before. He spoke to the graduates about the importance of finding work you can feel passion about, and not wasting life on things you are not passionate about (Umstead, 2011). Passion about elevating the sport is strong enough to hold out as an example to the next generation.
Our emotions are important as they serve as indispensable sources of orientation and push us to take action. However, they can also make us act irrationally. That is why we need emotional intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is a set of skills that enable you to recognize and manage emotions – both your own feelings and those of other people. Emotional intelligence is perhaps the most important factor in helping us lead fulfilled lives. Compared to IQ, it is a better predictor of academic success, job performance and life success. And, unlike IQ, we can increase our emotional intelligence throughout life (Goleman 2006).
In reflecting on these things, I am left with an understanding that restructuring and building up the UFC, and restructuring and building up the sport itself, represented a path of personal development and redemption for Dana White, a way he worked on himself and tested himself and committed to himself, a way he rose above his mother's narcissistic and painful influence, a way he grew past the hold of the streets and casinos, a way he transcended his own rage and directed his passion. Without a doubt, Dana White is an authentic leader.
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Goleman, Daniel. Working with Emotional Intelligence. Bantam Books, 2006.
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July 30, 2011, from MMA Underground: http://www.mixedmartialarts.com/news/329814/Is-
McCarthy, M. (2011, June 22). White says UFC's growth knows no bounds. Retrieved July 30,
2011, from USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/mma/2011-06-21-dana-white-
Umstead, R. T. (2011). Dana White: President, Ultimate Fighting Championship. Retrieved July
30, 2011, from B & C Broadcasting and Cable:
White, J. (2011). Dana White: King of MMA. self-published: Smashbooks
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