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Can You Learn How to Manage from Louisville's Rick Pitino?

Reading sports books can be fun. And you can pick up some good tips along the way.
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It may not seem like you have a whole lot in common, professionally speaking, with Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. He goes into the office on Sunday and spends most of the workday standing up screaming at people. His direct reports are younger, faster, and richer than your direct reports. And on a particularly good day, millions worldwide might watch him work.

When you think more about it, though, you and Carroll (and his peers) do roughly the same thing. You're the boss, and he's the boss. Both of you have to motivate, train, and mold a group of employees with different skills and personalities into a functioning and successful team. Granted, sports isn't a perfect metaphor for real business. "In sports," points out Penguin book editor Scott Moyers, "there are victories and there are defeats. Success and failures are more clear cut than they are in the rest of the world." But that little detail at least helps you clearly identify who has the most to teach you.

That's pretty much the reason why every winning coach seems to write a business book--and why it's not necessarily dumb to read them. Last July, former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson's Eleven Rings debuted at No. 2 on the New York Times business bestseller list, right behind Lean In, by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Jackson's volume follows in a long tradition of inspirational/business/sports bestsellers that began, as near as anyone can determine, with three-time NBA Coach of the Year Pat Riley's national bestseller, The Winner Within. After that, the floodgates opened. University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino's Success Is a Choice was No. 1 on the New York Times business list in the late 1990s and has sold, to date, more than 750,000 hardcover, paperback, and audio books.

There are many others. We encourage you to read...well, some of them (see above). But if you don't have the time, here are valuable nuggets from some of the greatest coaches (and perfectly acceptable leadership gurus) of all time:

Tackling Turnover: Every year, new recruits join the University of Tennessee women's basketball team. Pat Summitt always looked for kids who were a good fit with UT. "Any first-class organization will struggle to maintain its work ethic as personnel changes," Summitt says in her book, Reach for the Summit. "So we have to make sure the players we bring in basically share our work ethic and values. The people in your organization have to be willing to commit to an agreed-on minimum standard of work."

Managing Difficult Employees: Phil Jackson won 11 NBA championships with two teams, but his most famous management trick was dealing with Chicago Bulls über-superstar Michael Jordan, who, like many talented employees, wanted to do things his way. Jackson's solution for all kinds of players: Step back a bit and give him some rope. "The more I tried to exert power directly, the less powerful I became." Jackson writes. "I learned to dial back my ego without surrendering my authority."

Attention to Detail: Rick Pitino was much like a CEO when he took over the Boston Celtics in 1997. He changed the way the team operated, from the general manager's office down to the product on the court. He never did win a pro championship, but he put his professional touch on a poorly run outfit. Among Pitino's goals, he says in the book's introduction, was "to provide the fans with an entertaining product" and "build the organization to a championship level."

4 Pieces of Sports Wisdom to Use in the Office:

1. The Team-Player Trope

"In the sports world, it's always a good thing to be a team player. In the business world, this can just be a euphemism for overworking. You know, 'We need a team player…to come in over the weekend!' That extra work won't guarantee that you get noticed. Say your company has a freeze on pay raises. No matter how hard you work, you won't see the literal payback."

-Dr. Jim Afremow, author of The Champion's Mind

2. The Startup Metaphor

"A startup is analogous, in size, to a basketball team. If you recruit all 6-feet-2 players, you're going to have a problem. Then there's the football coach, who brings in 20 to 25 new recruits every year. How do you build a culture that initiates new people into the team? Startups can grow quickly, and you have to consider these things."

-Dr. L. Gregory Jones, senior strategist at Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics

3. Victory Dance

"A Fortune 500 top administrator once asked me, 'Is it OK to have feelings in corporate America?' She was serious! Sports allow you to be emotional. Passion translates to high performance, so you need to have permission to feel as well as think."

-Tom Mitchell, former coach, leadership counselor, and co-founder of MVP Performance Institute

4. Sports = business

"If a coach has spent his life [in] basketball, I don't know if he has his finger on the pulse when it comes to working for a construction company. When [he] claims that his situation is entirely applicable to yours, that's when his book starts to lose relevance." -T.M.

From the April 2014 issue of Inc. magazine

EMMA WHITFORD

Emma Whitford is an editorial assistant at New York magazine, and reviews fiction and non-fiction for Publishers Weekly. She lives in Brooklyn.




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