Leadership Lessons from UConn Coach Kevin Ollie
Well, March Madness is over. Now it's time for the UConn Huskies to bask in the glory of their championship and thank the man who led them to it.
Kevin Ollie, the head coach of the University of Connecticut men's basketball team, has proved to his players that patience, faith, and hard work pay off. On Monday night, the Huskies beat the Kentucky Wildcats 60-54 for the NCAA title. The win gives UConn its fourth championship since 1999.
As a player, Ollie worked doggedly just to stay in the NBA, spending 13 seasons in the league with 12 different franchises. Before becoming UConn's head coach in 2012, he spent two years as assistant to Jim Calhoun--the man who built the Huskies' program into a national power and coached Ollie when he was a college player from 1992 through 1995. During Ollie's first season as head coach, he had two obstacles to overcome: first, he was replacing the one of the best coaches of all time, and second, his team was banned from postseason play due to the team's dismal academic record. But Ollie, who is known for his quirky motivational quotes, or "Ollieisms," didn't let those problems get in his way. "When you go through trying times, you don't stop trying," he is known to say.
So what leadership lessons can you learn from Ollie? For one thing, the importance of patience. The startup world is always in search of the next flashy, instant success story, but it's refreshing to see a leader who has taken every step deliberately and achieved a goal in a humble way.
After Monday's game, Ollie told the Hartford Courant: "[The Huskies] have been resilient. I kept telling you it all started 18 months ago, when they kept believing and stayed loyal to the program," he said. "It was a wonderful feeling to hold that trophy up and do it the right way. We did it the right way for 18 months and we did it the right way in this NCAA tournament."
Below, read four Ollieisms that helped motivate the Huskies to win the NCAA title.
Take the stairs.
In September 2012, Ollie was hired as head coach, replacing Calhoun, and revealed his strategy: "We're going to take the stairs," Ollie said that day, according to the Courant. "Escalators are for cowards." This quote is about not taking the easy road, working hard toward a goal, and achieving it in due time. Ollie pushed his players to be a team and work together. There's no such thing as an overnight success. To win you have to take one step at a time, which is exactly what the Huskies did with each game.
You've got to have faith.
After narrowly beating Rutgers at the end of the regular season, Ollie proclaimed his ambition to win the NCAA tournament: "The only way you're going to have a blessing is if you believe and have faith," Ollie said that night in early March. "I believe we are going to win the national championship, and that's the only way I believe. I got faith in my team." Although this seems at odds with taking one step at a time, Ollie shows that you can't be successful unless you believe wholeheartedly in your team. In business, this sentiment also rings true. To be at the top of your industry, you and your employees need to believe in your company, your team, and your mission.
The Huskies were banned from postseason play last year due to the team's poor academic performance. But Ollie didn't let the sour taste from the ban ruin his team's chances to become champions this year. Instead, he spun it as an opportunity to practice and become a better team: "They can ban us from the postseason. They can ban us from the Big East tournament, but they can't ban us from getting better and loving each other," Ollie said near the end of last season. His quote is about the importance of a team's resilience, perseverance, and ability to overcome obstacles.
Become the best person you can be.
After missing one postseason, the Huskies got their grades up--five players, including tournament Most Outstanding Player Shabazz Napier, made the dean's list. During an interview with the The New York Times, Ollie didn't want to talk about the team's success on the court. "Basketball is second to me. I want them to be better people once they leave Storrs campus. If I did that, forget about the wins and losses, national championship, all that stuff. I think I've done my job," he said. This sentiment is about having a bigger goal than just winning a title, making money, or beating your competitors. Ollie's focus was on making his players champions of life--pushing them to become better people.
WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com
Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported on the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.