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April 19, 2013

A Cue That Business Leaders Can Take from a Winning Coach

Posted by Sandeep Dadlani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:17 AM


Sports analogies in the business world are admittedly somewhat overdone. But I do want to share something I witnessed recently when I watched one of the world's greatest basketball coaches comment on his secrets for success.
The coach is an American named Rick Pitino, who recently led the University of Louisville to his country's national collegiate championship. One of the sportscasters pulled aside Pitino for an interview before the final championship game. He told the coach that he'd been watching the team throughout the month-long basketball tournament and one thing became clear: That the team tended to play its best game when it was losing. Coach Pitino paused for a moment and thought about the sportscaster's peculiar comments. Then he explained why he thought his team raised the level of its game every time it looked as though they didn't have a chance of winning.

The first reason, he said, is adaptability. The coach said that he isn't timid about switching players in and out of positions if they're not performing up to his standards, especially if that means they're having difficulty keeping up with players on the opposing team. Quickly assessing which player might do a better job in a certain position, he mixes things up, both to throw off the other team and to capitalize on skills that some of his players possess.
As managers, sometimes, are we reluctant to pull someone out of a project and replace him with someone with a different skill set if it's going to help the client? With teams of colleagues who are entrenched in certain roles and positions, switching them out to perform other tasks isn't always the most popular choice.
The next part of the formula is focus, according to the coach. Often times a team can get knocked out of its comfort zone if it messes up a few important plays. Coach Pitino spoke of the importance of using a period of difficulty and hardship to focus on what needs to be done to overcome those problems. In other words, instead of dwelling on past mistakes, players should think ahead about what they can do to improve strategy and teamwork. I've found that it can be easy to get mired in second-guessing strategies that might not have worked during the course of a project. It's always better to have an attitude that takes you and your team "back to the drawing board" in order to forge ahead.
Finally, Coach Pitino spoke of the third element of this team's come-from-behind success: determination. There is nothing more sobering than after months of training, practice, and hard work to have an opponent run circles around you. It's only when a worthy opponent tests your skills that you tend to develop an extra amount of fortitude to get the job done.
I've been involved in projects when suddenly a deadline is moved up or the resources or budget we thought we had don't all come through. I've also seen how what's lacking around can be made up by calling on our collective inner gumption to give a project a jump-start. We often have a lot of talent and capacity for innovation deep within us that can only be revealed when we're forced to utilize those resources.
Surely, there's a lesson there - watching a team that has the ability to bring out its best when everything seems to be going against it. It's the stuff that makes more effective organizations too.

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