Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships. –
March Madness is upon us. It’s the time of the year in college
basketball where dreams come true and when hearts are broken depending
on the final score. How’s your bracket looking? Regardless of how your
team performs there are key leadership lessons to be learned. Here are
five worth your consideration.
Expect the unexpected
When filling out the brackets for the tournament the early picks seem
routine. It’s safe and easy to pick the number one seed to defeat a
number sixteen seed in the early round. But invariably an upset or two
happens; i.e. Ohio State and Dayton. How did that affect your bracket?
The leadership lesson is clear. Things don’t always go according to
plan or how you think it should. Just as a team prepares for the big
game, so too should you as a leader prepare and play hard. But don’t
fall into the trap of predictability. Be prepared for the unexpected
and be flexible. Unexpected things can and will happen.
Everyone loves an underdog
Often during March Madness an underdog emerges that captures the
limelight. Basketball fans will long remember NC State’s last second
dunk by Lorenzo Charles in their astounding victory over Houston in
the 1983 championship game. That game ranks as the number one upset in
tournament history. Many successful leaders are those who were labeled
as an underdog but simply forget to read those headlines. Walt Disney
was fired by the editor of a newspaper for “lacking ideas”; Steven
Spielberg dropped out of High School and applied to attend film school
three times but was unsuccessful because of his C average. The
examples are countless. You may be an underdog today but you can be
the top dog tomorrow. Never give up.
The experts are often wrong
During March Madness it’s always amusing to see the “experts” make and
defend their bracket selections and explaining away their choices when
they get it wrong. The best and brightest former players and analysts
make bold predictions and are often no better at their predictions
than you or I. On your leadership journey there will be critics who
will try to discourage or dissuade you by telling you why it can’t be
done or why it’s too difficult. When Fred Smith was at Yale he wrote a
paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. His professor
wrote in response, “The concept is interesting and well formed, but in
order to earn better than a “C”, the idea must be feasible.” Fred
Smith ignored that advice and went on to start FedEx anyway. As a
leader sometimes you will have to defy the critics and ignore the
experts and just do what’s in your heart. Go for it.
The teams that make it to March Madness do not get there by chance.
They are winners and that takes skill, teamwork, dedication, and hard
work. But most of all it’s about executing the fundamentals. Their
work ethic on the court is a reflection of their work ethic in
practice. Championship teams master the fundamentals of the game.
Leaders who excel in whatever field of work they are in do it the same
way. It’s about being your best, giving your best, and doing all that
you can to help your team win. When leaders fail to remember the basic
tenets of leadership; hard work, honesty, selflessness, etc., it makes
weak an otherwise strong team. You master the fundamentals of
leadership when you live by the fundamentals of leadership.
How you lose is just as important as how you win
While 64 teams make it to the Big Dance only two make it to the final
game. One team will run the tables and emerge victorious and 63 teams
will lose. It’s not meant to sound harsh but rather serve as a
reminder that be it a basketball game or business, there are ups and
downs. But how you lose reflects on your leadership style just as much
as how you act when you win. After losing to Mercer, Duke’s Coach K
went to their locker room to congratulate the team on their victory.
“You guys have a hell of a basketball team,” Krzyzewski said, “I love
the game and you guys play the game really, really well and your coach
coaches it well. If we had to be beaten, I’m glad we got beaten by a
hell of a basketball team. So good luck to you.” Talk about a class
act. Sometimes you can make a stronger impact by how well you lose
than you can in victory. In victory or defeat be kind, gracious, and
What do you say?
Doug Dickerson is a syndicated columnist. He writes a weekly column
for this newspaper. To contact Doug Dickerson, email him at