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Leadership Lessons—Coaching

It is March Madness. If you are like me your March Madness brackets were destroyed by day two. In Waco, Texas, our beloved Baylor team was beaten by Yale in the first round. Yes, Yale. The team who had never won an NCAA game and hadn’t been to the tournament for 54 years.

Yale isn’t known for their hardwood team. They have, however, had quite a few graduates that you’ll recognize. Names like, George Bush (both of them), Clinton (both of them, too), Clarence Thomas from the U.S. Supreme Court, actors James Franco, Paul Giamatti, Edward Norton, Jodie Foster, and the list goes on.

Their coach, James Jones, was named Yale’s coach in 1999. It only took him 16 years to win an NCAA playoff game. That makes him the best in school history, though.

What I love about March Madness, especially this year, is how the coaches of the underdogs have inspired their teams to beat those who are labeled as much better. Need examples? #13 Hawaii beats #4 California, #4 West Virginia loses to #13 Stephen F. Austin, #11 Gonzaga beats #6 Seton Hall, #5 Purdue gets beat by #11 Arkansas Little Rock just as #11 Wichita State overruns #6 Arizona … and the upset of all upsets happened when #15 Middle Tennessee State University kicks #2 Michigan State. One more example … #6 Northern Iowa makes a shot for over half court to stun #6 Texas at the buzzer and win by three.

More than 30 years ago, I had a chance to hire NC State’s coach, Jim Valvano, as the keynote for our Kinetico National Convention. If you are an ESPN fan you’ve, undoubtedly, see Valvano’s “Never Give Up” speech. We hired him the year after NC State won the 1983 National Championship against Houston.

I picked Valvano up at the Cleveland airport and spent a couple of hours with him. He wasn’t even 40 yet and had won a national championship. I had just turned 30 and still had dreams of future success—but not in basketball. What an amazing night as he inspired our people. What do I most remember about him? Two things—his passion and his humor. I remember thinking that if I was a stud basketball player, Jimmy V is the coach I’d love to play for.

Coaching. Owning a glass business. Managing technicians. It is really all the same isn’t it?

What do you do to inspire you team ever day? Anything? Or do you just roll out the ball and let them play? I’m not aware of any good team leader who does that. There is too much competition out there, isn’t there? It doesn’t matter how talented your team is. There is another team out there who isn’t nearly as good as you are that is going to do everything they can do to beat you at your business. Just ask some of the teams above who lost in the first round.

Those who lost know they were the better opponent. They will be watching, however, the inferior team that beat them move on to the next round. For the rest of their lives they will remember this loss. Perhaps this will be the motivator for them, personally, for all of the future challenges in lives. Who knows?

As you watch March Madness over the next few weeks reflect back on your business and determine what kind of coach you are.

One final thought. Coaching is done at the game—not just at practice. What I mean by this is we are often guilty of “rolling out the ball” and letting our teams play without us. When is the last time you stopped by a job where your techs were working to see how they were doing or if you could help them? That is “the game.” What you talk about in your office is simply “practice.”

Will your employees accuse you of checking up on them? Who cares? Aren’t you simply making sure that the customer is happy with your company and stays as one of your customers?

Put it back in basketball terms. Can you imagine a game where the coach didn’t show up for the real game? Yet, we do it every day.

Finally, would you play for you if you were one of the best in the country? If not, how are you going to become a better coach? The choice is up to you. Real leaders find the way.

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