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March 2007

Coaching Is Key To March Madness

For many, March means one thing – the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship! This three-week, single-elimination tournament showcases the top teams in college basketball, slugging it out to see who's the best in the nation. And. even if you are not a basketball fan, you are likely familiar with the office pools and water-cooler recaps that go along with this eagerly anticipated competition, often referred to as “March Madness” or “The Big Dance.”

But what you may not know is that the reason sport interests and analogies play well in the business world is because of their similarities. In both settings you naturally need a good team – and you've got to always have your “head in the game.” But the critical factor for surviving a slugfest like the NCAA tournament is also the same for succeeding in today's highly competitive business environment: a good Coach.

It's one thing to have a talented team to get the job done. But what you need to survive challenge after challenge is a coach who knows how to keep the team concentrating on the job, how to emphasize their strengths and overcome their weaknesses, and how to help the team adapt to ever-changing environments.

A coach helps the team focus on their vision – the ultimate goal to be achieved or game to be won. The coach can help align the team toward a common destiny by applying the “Three P's” of Coaching: Performance, Persistence and Patience.

Performance focuses clarity of objectives and expectations. It's not enough to cheer when the team scores, or scream about poor performance when they don't. The coach needs to develop a viable game plan, give the players their assignments, then let the team execute the plays. While sports coaches face penalties for storming onto the field, leaders in the business world must rely on their own discipline to stay on the sidelines and let the team players do their jobs, but also tell them what they need to change in order to win.

Persistence involves paying close attention to how the team is progressing toward its goals. Teams look to their Coaches as their primary motivational force. In this respect, the Coach must constantly be available to serve as a cheerleader: rallying and unifying the team through words and actions that are targeted, continuous, and matched to the situation at hand. The coach should be fully engaged, interacting closely with team members and providing guidance or feedback on an ongoing basis.

Patience relates to the team's learning process. To build team competencies and cultivate true teamwork, good coaches make sure their players have the right equipment and training, plenty of time to practice and sufficient praise. Coaches need to have patience with the learning process – but not infinite patience. The real art of coaching is gauging when to tolerate mistakes as learning opportunities and when to toughen performance expectations by raising the bar a notch or two.

My favorite Ohio State Buckeyes team left for the locker room with a 14-point deficit at half time against The Tennessee Volunteers last Thursday night in the NCAA tournament. They had been listless and 'off' that first half. But after spending half-time with their coach, the Buckeyes slowly and steadily pulled themselves back together and with three-point shots they provided a spectacular ending to the game with a score of 85-84! “I'm proud of our guys,” Thad Matta, the Buckeyes Head Coach said, “I'm just half ticked off at 'em, for the way we started.” This coach's patience was wearing a bit thin!

Leaders limit their influence when they ignore the crucial role of coaching. Although no leader can guarantee success, whether it be an NCAA Basketball Championship victory or record year-end profits, those who demonstrate a willingness and ability to spend their time coaching certainly better the odds.

Actions for Results:
Tips and Tools for Being a Great Coach

• Make sure you've got the right players in the right positions

• Ask for input and feedback when developing your game plan

• Never give up on your team, your energy and enthusiasm are infectious

• Practice – practice – practice (in business that means hold strategic
    discussions, do contingency planning, give continuous feedback)

• Lose your patience – when you have to

• Conduct after Action Reviews/Lessons Learned sessions. Winners don't
   always win, so ask your team what they can learn when they lose.

So, how do you measure up, Coach?

"On the platform, Lynda is energetic and highly credible. This combination creates a motivated and engaged audience. Our participants' comments were highly favorable on the depth of your subject matter expertise and your ability to engage them on a variety of challenging and complex issues."

Stephen J. Kontra, Director,
Leadership Education
and Development
Pfizer, Inc.


Lynda McDermott

Lynda is honored to be one of over 570
Certified Speaking Professionals
in the United States


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