Winning Business Lessons from The NBA


5 Minute read

Business, just like basketball, is a team “game,” and winning at the highest levels means that your team’s whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Whether it’s LeBron James hammering home a thunderous dunk, or Stephen Curry draining a three-pointer from half-court, basketball reaches a fever pitch every June when the NBA Finals rolls around. In the world of business, a number of leaders live by the same disciplines and strategies adopted by the game’s greatest players and coaches.

Basketball wasn’t that big where I came from (Scotland), but since I moved to the Philippines back in 2008, I’ve become hopelessly immersed in the game. In this hoops-obsessed country where kids play ball in their bare feet, and people build their own courts out of whatever materials they get their hands on, basketball is more akin to a religion than a mere sport.

As a female executive, I’ve had my share of challenges and opportunities. I’ve read countless business playbooks, gotten the degrees, and elbowed for position with the big boys. Whether points are calculated on sales or customers, the most effective leaders keep their eyes on the scoreboard while being nimble enough to evaluate, adjust, and make the right decisions.

As celebrated Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski once said, “People have to be given the freedom to show the heart they possess. It’s a leader’s responsibility to provide that type of freedom.” I know this to be true. As the head of a growing offshore outsourcing firm, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be an effective leader and build a successful company. Many of these business lessons I learned from my exposure to basketball. See if they apply to your business as well:

1. Recruit the best.
Like the multicultural San Antonio Spurs franchise (5 NBA titles, 20 consecutive playoff appearances), I believe in going after grade-A talent, regardless of location.

Throughout the years, San Antonio has become the premier destination for international players looking to develop their game at the highest level in basketball: Tony Parker from France, Manu Ginóbili from Argentina, Patty Mills from Australia, Aron Baynes from New Zealand, Pau Gasol from Spain, Marco Belinelli from Italy, Cory Joseph from Canada, Boban Marjanović from Serbia, Tiago Splitter from Brazil.

2. Don’t be a ball hog.
While it was LeBron James who led the Cleveland Cavaliers in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks during the 2016 NBA Finals, it was teammate Kyrie Irving who hit a clutch three-pointer to beat the 73-win Warriors juggernaut.

Every player counts, 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.

3. Trust your teammates.
My management approach? Expect great things, then empower. Assembling a team 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, as opposed to micromanagement.

Remember that little things win games, and one man alone (in this case, you) can’t possibly manage all the little things. It takes hiring, coaching and empowering each player on the team to manage his or her responsibility.

In his book Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success, 13-time NBA champion (2 as a player, 11 as a coach) Phil Jackson wrote, “One thing I’ve learned as a coach is that you can’t force your will on people.” Instead, he empowered team members to think for themselves so they can make difficult decisions by themselves.

4. Encourage hustle plays.
In basketball, hustle plays often don’t show up on the stat sheet, but they are invaluable to the overall success of the team. When players own their roles, they’re unafraid of a little hustle. University of North Carolina coaching legend Dean Smith said it best: “There is a lot of basketball beyond our control, but a player should never let anyone try harder than he does.”

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 organization’s collective goals above everything else.

5. Maintain a full court vision.
The best players have full court vision. They have the ability to see not only the straight line to where they’re going, but also the big picture in the heat of the game. For business leaders, this could not be more important.

Successful businesses not only recognize the importance of a unified, overall vision, but also understand how individual roles play into the overall delivery of it. Without communicating a consistent vision, employees sometime can lose sight of the game the team is playing.

Developing a winning culture at Deployed.
About a year ago, I joined Deployed, an outsourcing solutions company that helps business owners around the world to set up and manage their own low-cost operations offshore. The continued success of Deployed can be attributed to a management style akin to basketball leadership.

The sum of our “players” is greater than any individual on the Deployed roster. It needs to be because the company consists of employees distributed both in New Zealand and the Philippines. Ask anyone on the Deployed team and they know their individual roles and how their functions fit into the overall game of business. Then ask any one of them what the organizational objectives and goals are, and they’ll likely recite exactly the same thing: contribute plays and win the game.

We built Deployed this way by approaching the company like a basketball coach, more than a boss. Just as a basketball coach relies on the talent assembled, the role of an effective business leader is quite similar.

If you’d like to know more about how the Deployed offshore outsourcing model can help you win in business, arrange a confidential call or meeting today.

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