7 Leadership Lessons You Can Learn From the Game of Basketball
Whether it’s Stephen Curry draining a three-pointer, or Villanova winning the NCAA title, spring in America means basketball. In the world of business, some leaders live by the same disciplines and strategies as the game.
Not long ago, I met with Adam Wray, CEO of Basho Technologies Inc., and his team at a Final Four happy hour in San Francisco. An avid University of Kansas fan, Wray’s distributed database is fine-tuned to deliver network availability to big-name companies like Best Buy, Riot Games and Comcast. He attributes the success of Basho to a management style akin to basketball leadership.
“The sum of players is greater than any individual player on the Basho roster,” Wray explains. It needs to be because the company consists of employees distributed across the globe. “We’re a distributed database platform, at the same time we’re drinking our own champagne as an organizationally distributed company,” he continues.
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Ask anyone on the Basho team and they know their individual role, he says, and how their functions fit into the overall game of business. Then ask any one of them what the organizational objectives and goals are, and they’ll likely recite exactly the same thing: contribute plays and win the game.
Wray has built Basho this way by approaching his company like a basketball coach, more than a boss, he says. Just as a basketball coach relies on the talent he or she’s assembled, the role of an effective CEO is quite similar.
Wray and his team shared seven characteristics of the basketball-to-business leadership parallels that he says contribute to his organizational success.
1. Recruit the best.
Like the great legacy basketball programs and teams, Basho believes in going after grade-A talent regardless of location. Offer your players what they need to join the team.
As Wray explains, it’s not possible to get the best database expert out of Scotland if you need him to move to Mountain View, Calif. It is, however, if you meet his needs by providing the infrastructure, processes and team that allows him to remain where he is.
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2. Share the credit.
While it was Villanova’s Josh Hart who led the NCAA championship team in scoring for the season, it was teammate Kris Jenkins who hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat North Carolina.
All players count, and on any given day, someone can step up and deliver for the team. It’s true on the court just as it is in executing a corporate strategy, Wray says.
3. Empower others.
“Expect great things, then empower,” Wray says of his management approach. Assembling a team of effective assistant coaches, team leaders and specialists and empowering them to lead is key to enabling delegation. This allocation of authority establishes trust, instills incentive and makes delivering on commitments the objective focus instead of micromanagement.
“The little things win games, and I can’t possibly manage all the little things myself,” Wray explains. “It takes hiring, coaching and empowering each player on the team to manage his or her responsibility.”
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4. Foster open communication.
Duke University men's basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, cites communication as one of the fundamental qualities that makes up a great team. Being an effective communicator means clearly speaking, but also requires strong nonverbal cues, written words and great listening skills. Praise players for the positives they bring to the team and challenge them in their areas of improvement.
In business, it’s been proven that this type of communication is unilateral. Everyone on the Basho team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, Wray says, and is committed to forwarding conversations and actions.
5. Encourage hustle plays.
In basketball, the hustle plays often go untracked on the stat sheet but are invaluable to the overall success of the team. When team players own their roles, they are unafraid of a little hustle. “It’s the hustle plays that win close games,” Wray says.
When you hustle for the loose ball, you’re putting your team before yourself. In the same way, when you hustle for your team in business, you are putting your collective goals above everything else.
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6. Be unselfish.
Celtic great Bill Russell once said, “The most important measure of how good a game I played was how much better I’d made my teammates play.” Winning on the court, like winning in business, requires the sum of your team proving more powerful than any individual player. In basketball, an assist can lead to a dunk. In business, an assist can lead to a sale.
7. Share a consistent vision.
It’s important, as a head coach, to have a vision and mission for your team. American men's college basketball coach, Mark Gottfried has said, “Have a vision. Sell your program. Your team is going to reflect you.”