Business leaders and basketball coaches:

Have you ever noticed that great business leaders are a lot like great college basketball coaches?  In both cases, their job is to recruit and grow top performers to accomplish major goals through positive character-building experiences. 

Top talent – or A-Players – are individuals who first and foremost have a positive attitude, who are strong at a particular skill and who work hard winning or losing as part of a team. As a coach or business leader, our job is to create a culture that inspires top talent to take their game to the next level. In doing so, teams can bond together to make amazing things happen, whether winning championships or transforming business.

Although it may seem that sports and business don’t intersect much outside the sports industry, the truth is that being a top coach and a top business leader are more alike than they are different. Specifically, the role of a coach and business leader should be to:

Attract and motivate top performers

As a great coach or business leader, our primary responsibility is to recruit, inspire, and grow top talent.  The Positive Coaching Alliance of Colorado (PCA), a non-profit organization dedicated to creating ‘Better Athletes, Better People’ through sports, describes their standard for top talent as Triple Impact Competitors:  athletes who make themselves better, make their team better, and make the game better. These attributes translate well in business as they define people with positive attitudes who are committed to personal development and team success.  By recruiting people with these attributes, we provide the basis for developing people and building the best team.  And the best teams, whether in sports or business, consistently deliver and win.

Help team members cultivate life skills

People with sports experience tend to be well-rounded teammates in business.  You don’t have to be a professional athlete or start on the varsity team to pick up essential life skills through sports.  Organized or recreational sports can develop people by fostering an individual’s drive, teamwork, and ability to overcome adversity that comes with playing team sports.  Sports provide an ideal environment for honing these skills fundamental to success in business and life.

Strive to inspire, not to intimidate

I will never forget life lessons learned, both good and bad, from my high school baseball coach, which are lessons I use every day in business.  He taught our team the critical values of hard work, integrity and commitment to excellence – values fundamental to doing great things in life, for which I am eternally grateful. 

Like all of us, he also had a blind spot.  His blind spot interfered with his ability to inspire confidence in our team.  For example, as a senior in high school, I was shortstop on the varsity baseball team and I can vividly recall overthrowing a ball to first base in a big game. My coach reprimanded me on the spot, yelling at me between batters and humiliating me in front of my teammates, my parents, my friends and the crowd.

My coach’s reaction to my error, and his same reaction to my teammates errors, instilled a sense of fear in our team, rather than inspiration. It’s difficult to perform at your highest level in business, sports, or life if you are afraid of making mistakes.

Like a great coach, a great business leader should encourage individuals on his or her team to make the play, and if they don’t succeed, help that player learn from the experience and step back in better prepared for the next play. Sports and business provide an endless procession of teachable moments that can enhance an athlete or individual’s sense of self and team. Coaches and business leaders who see themselves as character and confidence builders, providing candid feedback the right way at the right time, can create inspired teams who consistently perform at high levels.

Develop your top talent, and then help them move on

A primary goal of both great coaches and great business leaders is to recruit and grow top talent, and at the right time encourage these individuals to move on to their next challenging role on your team or another team, ideally in your company. 

Too often the tendency is to keep our stars too long in the roles in which they are excelling. However, the reality is that A-Players must move on to continue their personal growth. And whether you are a coach or business leader, you must have the ability to recruit, inspire, and grow the next A-Player. 

An inspirational leader is one who embraces the concept of helping top talent identify and secure their next growth opportunity when the time is right. This unique leadership ability serves as a powerful attraction to capture the hearts and minds of the best talent within and outside of your company, time after time.

Categories: Management & Leadership