Basketball Diaries: Lessons in Leadership From the Final Four Coaches
But isn't it nice to sit back for these three weeks of March Madness every year and watch these things play out in real time on the basketball court?
Now we're down to the Final Four: Florida, Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Kentucky. Unfortunately, no representation from my picks and the places I love (Creighton, University of Colorado, UVA, and Nebraska). But what fascinates me is how these teams perform and how they're coached. It is truly a reflection of leadership and team performance.
Just watch this Saturday--each of these teams is a reflection of their coach's approach.
Billy Donovan: The Structural Teacher
The Florida Gators are no stranger to the Final Four under head coach Billy Donovan, and are considered the favorite.
Coach Donovan may have come to Florida in 1997 as a fast-talking 29-year-old, but these days what you hear about his basketball program are words like patience, process, and consistency. He's been called the best teacher in the game, and it's hard to argue. Kids enter the Florida program, stick around, and tend to accomplish a lot while they're there.
Coach Donovan's message resonates and his structural thinking and focused execution allows the Florida program to stay on a predictable course. It's good to be a Gator fan right now.
Kevin Ollie: The Conceptual Leader
In this group, Kevin Ollie is the new guy. But he's led Connecticut to the Final Four in only his second year of coaching--an amazing accomplishment. Coach Ollie is big on big ideas. His style, as the Washington Post chronicled, is thick with metaphors, slogans, and acronyms and may seem like a collection of motivational posters.
He's a conceptual leader who uses intuitive emotion to make his team believe they can do it. The 99 percent of us who didn't put Coach Ollie and the Huskies in the Final Four are believers now.
Bo Ryan: The Analytical Thinker
Over the past 40 years, Wisconsin's Bo Ryan has coached his teams to more than 700 wins--none bigger than the squeaker over Arizona in the West Regional Final. "It was awesome to see Coach Ryan so happy," said Sam Dekker, Wisconsin sophomore forward after the win.
It's a safe bet that Coach Ryan is more reserved on the days when he is not winning huge games--you won't find him hanging out on social media--and Wisconsin's style of play during his 13-year tenure reflects that. The Badgers are always good, deliberate, sound, and efficient.
This analytical approach shapes his team's preparation and Ryan's quieter demeanor means that his players don't get rattled easily. It's a style that translates well in the tournament.
My social preference has me pulling a bit for Coach Ryan. I'm sure he'll coach the Badgers this weekend with his late father in mind. He had attended the Final Four with his dad for the last 35 years.
John Calipari: The Outgoing Innovator
John Calipari is one of a kind. In five years at Kentucky, he has taken the Wildcats to the Final Four three times and won it all in 2012. He's a captivating personality, a quote machine, and an incredible coach. I say this with confidence: No other college basketball coach has 1.26 million Twitter followers or has posted 8,468 tweets.
So how are Coach Calipari's expressive and social tendencies reflected in the Kentucky program? Long story short, their starting five is all freshmen. So this year, Calipari essentially has to do in one year what Donovan and others cultivate over four. All the teaching, the relationship building, and tough love has to occur over a period of months.
Calipari has to be flexible--prepared for the worst, able to try new approaches, and willing to change on a dime.
I always love this time of year. Our office is filled with brackets on the walls and we have a global bracket pool. It certainly made this column easier to write with some help from my team, who are both basketball aficionados and thinking and behavioral experts.
Enjoy the games this weekend, and know that any kind of leader can cut down the nets.