Leadership, in Basketball and in Business

Finals have ended, and my first CSUF MBA semester is complete.  I wanted to take a break from MBA-focused posts and write about one of my favorite pastimes – playing basketball.  But I am not going to focus on the fitness benefits of playing basketball, or the fact that it serves as a stress-release for me.  Instead, I often observe leadership traits (good and bad) while playing pickup games at the gym.  I firmly believe the following leadership lessons I witness provide valuable insights that can be applied to one’s career and life outside of the gym.

Do your job (Know your role).  An effective basketball team cannot succeed if every player wants to be the go-to scorer.  Otherwise, no one will play defense, rebound, or pass the ball to open teammates.  Each person needs to fulfill their role, based on the skills he brings to the court.  In my case, I know I can post-up on offense, rebound, and play defense against the opposing team’s best player.  I can fulfill those roles because of my natural traits (height, long arms) and skills (quick feet, soft shooting touch).  Effective leaders understand what traits and abilities they bring to the table, and understand the role they fill in an organization.  In the areas where they are lacking, they hire staff with complementary skills.  I know I am not a great ball handler, so I prefer to play with someone who can dribble and pass effectively.  Leaders must understand the role(s) they fill, and build a strong team that complements those areas of weakness.  Otherwise, their organization will never effectively achieve its goals.

Do the dirty work.  In basketball, dirty work includes fighting under the basket for rebounds, playing solid defense, and diving for loose balls.  Oftentimes, doing the dirty work can inspire your teammates to play harder.  They see how importantly their teammate values each possession and how badly he wants to win.  The same principles apply in the workplace.  Leaders must demonstrate the importance of doing the little things, which are instrumental to running an organization but often do not bring much recognition.  Leading by example is a great way for leaders to show how important those little things are and inspire their coworkers to value them.

Be positive.  This is one of the most important ways to effectively inspire teammates.  I notice that players respond better to support than they do to disapproval.  I have never seen anyone’s play improve after they were berated for making a mistake.  I have seen players respond positively to constructive criticism, though.  Leaders should utilize constructive criticism in a positive way to help encourage growth among their teammates.  A leader (or basketball player) who simply yells at a teammate when he or she makes a mistake is damaging that teammate’s confidence.  A leader’s constructive criticism demonstrates trust in the teammate’s potential.  A team that does not grow will never accomplish their goals, and the best leaders push their teammates to grow while remaining positive through the challenging growing pains.

I have played pickup basketball for years and seen a variety of leadership styles exhibited on the court: screaming, berating, pseudo-superstars; gracious, encouraging role players; and everything in between.  These leadership styles do not need to be relegated to just the basketball court, and effective basketball leadership can easily translate to the workplace.  It is the leader’s responsibility to provide a vision for the organization, and ensure each person utilizes the full potential of their abilities to achieve those results.  Demonstrating effective leadership can inspire teammates and coworkers to achieve more than they expected, and generate wins on the basketball court and success in the workplace.

Here are a couple of interesting articles I’ve read during the last couple of weeks:

“The Ten Biggest Lies of B-School” – This Yahoo article caused me to think twice about what I believe the CSUF MBA degree will do for me.  After reading it, I realized I will probably feel I can conquer any business problem I face but I will need to temper my enthusiasm and initially maintain a realistic perspective of my knowledge and abilities.

“Effective (and Non-Creepy) Ways to Stalk People on LinkedIn” – This article has great advice for getting in touch with prospective networking contacts.  I found the strategy to join groups your prospective target is in especially helpful.  Once you are in the same group(s), you can contact that individual without needing a premium LinkedIn account.


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