What Business Leaders Can Learn from March Madness

From the sidelines, most basketball games can look frenzied: offensive players trying to find an open man, defenders hoping to trap and steal a ball, and coaches frantically calling out new plays in the midst of apparent chaos.  But to anyone who has been on the court or has followed the game extensively knows basketball is a fast-paced environment well-orchestrated by leaders, both on the court and from the bench.  The best teams, the ones that make it to the courts that host March Madness, are constantly setting up and running multiple complicated plays and adjusting their tactics in the hopes of making it to the next round.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” -Michael Jordan

Just as in the game of basketball, great business leadership strategy doesn’t start and end with the coach.  A successful team in any environment requires all players to contribute their best in concert with their teammates, and do it seamlessly.   It is the leader’s responsibility to provide the tools to make that happen.

5 Leadership Techniques from the Court

1. Establish Your Culture.

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” – John Wooden

The success of the team cannot depend solely on all the players having a common goal or every school would make it to the final four.  Players on great teams have core values in common, both on the court and off.  What are your team’s values? What do you want the team to embody and emulate? Everyone should know the philosophy and the behaviors and demonstrate their belief in them.

2. Create a Playbook.

“Michael, if you can’t pass, you can’t play.” -Coach Dean Smith to Michael Jordan (when he was at UNC)

The basketball can be passed faster and more effectively than it can be dribbled and no championship team has been won on the backs of only one player – passing is the key to any good offensive strategy.

Your team needs to know how and when to play off the strengths of each other and how to execute successfully. They rely on you to create clearly defined roles that are flexible in times of need so there is never gap in progress if one person goes down.  As a leader you must be able to illustrate the optimum plays so they know what contributions are expected of them.  If you create a playbook for them to follow in any given situation when it comes time to play hard, they play well, with focus and purpose.

3. Select Team Captains

“Sometimes a player’s greatest challenge is coming to grips with his role on the team.” – Scottie Pippen

Build leadership at all levels. Every team needs a captain, someone who can lead the day-to-day efforts, offer observations, model excellence and inspire the team to be “A” players. Captains are hands-on guides for shared goals, core values and alignment. Make the role of a captain something to which all players aspire.

4. Provide Consistent Feedback

“A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” – John wooden

Coaches constantly observe performance – player behaviors, progress, trends and outcomes. They provide feedback, both praise and guidance, in real-time to clarify direction and ensure motivation. If coaches only provided performance reviews at the end of the season, their words would be futile and the results de-motivating.  As a leader, you must be present for your team providing consistent consult and helpful perspective.

5. Celebrate Each Victory

It’s awesome when you get to celebrate a championship victory, but there are a lot of wins before the final game, and each one needs to be recognized.  Your team’s performance will be better for it because recognizing each win…

  • demonstrates what’s possible
  • provides the ultimate “visualization”
  • creates a culture of receptivity to guidance
  • builds motivation and commitment

And, always make sure you recognize those unsung heroes on your team!
“Everybody on a championship team doesn’t get publicity, but everyone can say he’s a champion.” -Magic Johnson

Category: Leadership

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About the Author: AmyK Hutchens

Speaker. Author. Trainer. Business Strategist.

A former executive of a billion dollar global consumer products company and awarded the Vistage UK, International Speaker of the

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