March Madness – Lessons from The Dean
By Doug Dickerson
March Madness is here and basketball fans across the country have faithfully filled out their brackets, and are watching the madness. Through the first weekend, I am still in fairly good shape with my picks, including North Carolina who I’ve picked to win it all.
Legendary coach Dean Smith is a coach’s coach. As current UNC Coach Roy Williams said, “Coach Dean Smith is the greatest on-the-court basketball coach there ever was, and in his dealings with his players and others off the court, he was equally effective.”
In his book, The Carolina Way, Leadership Lessons From a Life in Coaching, Smith outlines many of his leadership principles that guided him to one of the most storied coaching careers of all time; especially when you consider he won more than 75 percent of his games, including 13 ACC tournament championships and 17 ACC regular titles. In 2000, an ESPN panel of experts named him one of the greatest coaches of the twentieth century in any sport.
Smith identifies first principles that lay the foundation for success on and off the court. I’d like to share with you his three foundational principles; play hard, play together, play smart, from his book as we consider important leadership principles. Speaking of these principles, Smith said, “Hard meant with effort, determination, and courage; together meant unselfishly, trusting your teammates, and doing everything possible not to let them down; smart meant with good execution and poise, treating each possession as if it were the only one in the game.”
When it comes to the leadership and the development of your team, think of how these principles can make a difference in your organization.
The first principle is playing hard. Coach Smith says, “Maybe the player wasn’t the fastest, the tallest, or the most athletic person on the court. In the course of any game that was out of his control. But each of them could control the effort with which he played. ‘Never let anyone play harder than you’ I told them.”
You’ve heard the expression, “Work smarter, not harder”. I’m all for working smarter, more efficiently, and being more productive. Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Every now and then we can have moments of genius, but it takes hard work to move that idea forward. Coach Smith built his legacy by working hard and smart.
The second principle is playing together. Coach Smith instilled in his players the importance of team play. “Basketball is a game that counts on togetherness. I pointed out that seldom, if ever, did the nation’s leading scorer play on a ranked team. He certainly didn’t play on a championship team. I made them understand that our plan would fall apart if they didn’t take care of one another, One man who failed to do his job unselfishly could undermine the efforts of the four players on the court,” Said Smith.
In your organization, team work will move you forward faster than going it alone. That’s why relationship building is so important. When everyone buys into the vision of the organization and realizes that goals and dreams will become realities much sooner if pursued as a team, then Lone Ranger attitudes will become a thing of the past. Baseball legend Babe Ruth summed it up well when he said, “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”
Finally, it’s the principle of playing smart. Coach Smith insisted on a fundamentally sound team. “We didn’t skimp on fundamentals. We worked on them hard in practice and repeated them until they were down cold. We expected our team to execute well and with precision. If we practiced well and learned, we could play smart. It was something we could control,” he said.
Playing smart, executing the play, and putting yourself in a position to win is the result of good fundamentals. This happens when a good leader is in place navigating the way for the team.
Coach Smiths’ leadership principles are good reminders that when we work hard, play together, and play smart, good things can happen.
© 2009 Doug Dickerson