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  • Sam Decker

Basketball Management

Management is like playing sports. Players vs. employees. Coaches vs. managers. Score vs. Profits. Teams vs. Teams.

Several years ago Guy Kawaski and I were playing basketball and discussing the similarities of good basketball and good business. Tonight I played basketball and it reminded me of some of these analogies…. Basketball: The more you pass (or assist) the easier it is to score. Management: The more you assist others, the more they assist you, and the easier it is to accomplish goals. Delegation and empowerment is like making assists…where you are asking someone else to score.

Basketball: The more you assist, the more you get passed the ball. Management: The more you assist co-workers and employees, the more they assist you. The more you respect, the more you’re respected. The more you listen, the more you’re listened to.

Basketball: No one wants to play with a ball hog, even if they’re a good scorer. Management: No one wants to listen to a know-it-all or work with a Machiavellian.

Basketball: What happens to a team when they’re ahead? They play it safe and conservative. The other team is aggressive and usually comes from behind to win. Management: Companies in market leadership positions who play it safe are in jeopardy. Safe is risky, risky is safe.

Basketball: Superstar players can certainly help a team win. But often the winning teams don’t have the best 5 players. They have the 5 players that play best together, and probably a great coach. Each player knows their game, and they rely on others’ strengths when needed (post up, outside shooter, dribble penetration). Management: Great employees are important. But some of the best companies aren’t filled with superstars. They are managed in a way that gets the most of the interactions between them. Employees are put in positions where their strengths are amplified, there is direct communication, healthy conflict, and effective teaming.

Basketball: Young talent is helpful. But in high pressure situations, in the 4th quarter, when the game is close, experience makes a difference. Winning teams have veterans who know how to use the talents of the team to win the game. Management: A great company needs young, fresh thinking, but also experience from executives who have been there. The best executives know how to tap into that innovative thinking, but temper it with pragmatic wisdom.

Basketball: Winning teams learn to consistently execute offense and plays which exploit the opponent’s weaknesses. Management: Winning companies consistently execute a superior, differentiated profitable growth plan.

Basketball: Why does a home team advantage help teams win? Fans recognize and appreciate players, giving them a motivational boost. Management: One of the most impactful motivational boost for employees is recognition.

Ok, I’ve taken this far enough. Next time you watch or play sports, see which team would make a great company!


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