7 Leadership Essentials That Can Be Learned from the Game of Basketball

Whether it’s Stephen Curry draining a 3-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.

I recently met with Adam Wray, CEO of Basho, 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 stellar network availability to big name companies like Best Buy, Riot Games, and Comcast. He attributes the success of Basho to a management style not unsimilar 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 champaign as an organizationally distributed company,” he continues.

Ask anyone on the Basho team, and they know their individual role, and how it fits into the overall game of business. Then ask any one of them what the organizational objectives and goals are, and they’ll 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. Just as coach relies on the talent he or she’s assembled, the role of effective CEO is quite similar.

Wray and his team shared seven characteristics of the basketball-to-business leadership parallels that contribute to his organizational success.

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, California. It is, however, if you meet his needs by providing the infrastructure, processes, and team that allows him to remain where he is.

Empower Others

“Expect great things, then empower,” Wray says of his management approach. Assembling a team of 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.”

Share the Credit

While it was Villanova’s Josh Hart who lead the NCAA championship team in scoring for the season, it was teammate Kris Jenkins hit a 3-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.

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 be unilateral. Everyone on the Basho team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, and is committed to forwarding conversations and actions.

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 reflects.

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.

Be Unselfishtumblr_njxljrxwNY1u542tco1_500

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.

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.”

Successful businesses not only recognize the importance of a unified vision, but also understand how individual roles play into the overall delivery of it. “With a distributed workforce, having a clearly articulated and consistently communicated vision is critical to keeping all at Basho moving in the same direction,” Wray insistes. “Without communicating a consistent vision isolated employees can lose sight of the game the team is playing”.

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Andre Bourque (SocialMarketingFella) is Editor Emeritus of Technorati.

He covers emerging trends and news in social, mobile, cloud, and related technologies.

Based in San Francisco, he can be contacted via his social channels and at: andrefbourque@gmail.com

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