Home » Uncategorized » Leadership Lessons – March Madness

Leadership Lessons – March Madness

While channel surfing the other night, Mary Kay and I found ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Survive and Advance.” This is must viewing during March Madness. You can watch it via the link below:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1iABroUWU0

Here is the “Reader’s Digest” version of what you’ll see of the 17-10 NC State team before they entered the ACC Tournament:

  • ACC Tournament:      Beat Wake Forest by 1
  • ACC Tournament:      Beat #5 North Carolina by 7 in overtime
  • ACC Tournament:      Beat #2 Virginia by 3
  • NCAA Tournament:   Beat Pepperdine by 2
  • NCAA Tournament:   Beat #6 UNLV by 1
  • NCAA Tournament:   Beat Utah by 19
  • NCAA Tournament:   Beat #4 Virginia by 1
  • NCAA Tournament:   Beat #18 Georgia by 7
  • NCAA Tournament:   Beat #1 Houston by 2 (National Championship)


Quite a run! How could something like this happen? Their leader. Coach Jim Valvano was an amazing leader, as you will see if you watch “Survive and Advance.”

If you don’t remember him perhaps you remember his speech from the ESPYs in 1993 as he was dying of cancer:  https://www.google.com/search?q=jim+valvano+speech&rlz=1C1GGRV_enUS751US751&oq=Jim+Val&aqs=chrome.2.0j69i57j0l4.5007j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8. Since that speech, his foundation has raised more than $150 million to fight cancer.

I knew Jimmy V. I was driving him back to the Cleveland airport and asked him for an autograph, and this is what he wrote, “You are the best at what you do. Now if I could just figure out what you do. -Jim Valvano.” This is displayed on my desk today.

That was 1984. I was in charge of a convention for Kinetico Water Softeners. Being a basketball fan, I watched NC State advance through the tournament and win the national championship against a Houston team that was heavily favored – lead by Clyde “The Glide” Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon.  Four team members got drafted by the NBA. There was no way Valvano’s team should have won.

My goal was to find a speaker for our Convention. I thought of Valvano. Back in those days we didn’t have the internet. Celebrities often would respond to letters. His assistant called me and said he was busy the week of our Convention. So, I changed the Convention date. It worked. We hired him for only $5,000. Imagine.

Valvano taught me a great deal about leadership. I had already learned a great deal about him by reading Sports Illustrated stories about him when he was coaching at Iona. He was a one-of-a-kind motivator. You’ll see what I’m talking about when you watch the video.

I have a cassette from his speech to Kinetico recorded by one of our franchisees. I listen periodically to it. Just as he did in the speech in the above link, Valvano spoke then about his “big three”:

  • “There are three things everyone should do every day. Number one is laugh. Number two is think — spend some time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that’s a heck of a day.”

He spoke to us 34 years ago. When I watch the video it seems like yesterday. The good news is that his message will last a lifetime for me. I hope it does the same for you.

Posted in Uncategorized and tagged as ,