There is no better time of year for underdogs to be in the spotlight than March Madness. One coach and his team have made this a reality.The South Carolina Gamecocks led by their head coach, Frank Martin, are this year's NCAA Tournament's Cinderella story.
They've stunned everyone by moving from a 7 seed (200:1 odds of winning) to only 2 wins away from a National Championship. Just to give you some perspective, a $100 bet would have paid $20,000!
Everybody loves an underdog story. In business, we give the most credit to those who rise from obscurity to become industry leaders and world dominators. These are people like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson.
Here's what we can we can learn from the underdogs of the world.
Everything rises and falls on leadership. You can look up and down the history books of sports and business and there is always a direct correlation between success and leadership. What's most interesting is a leader who doesn't take credit.
When Frank Martin was asked how he took his program from not winning a NCAA basketball game since 1973 all the way to the Final Four his answer was perfect, "It's the guys on this team. They believe in each other, they put up with me and go out and do it better the next day. They have the courage of a lion."
Let's not kid ourselves, The Gamecocks program was borderline awful prior to Frank Martin getting hired. So there is no question his leadership mattered in a big way. In their core, great leaders don't think it's about them.
Culture is What Sustains an Organization
Brian Kight of Focus 3 says it perfectly, "Culture is the beliefs that drive behavior and the experiences it creates in your organization." South Carolina's culture runs deep and permeates not only their team, but their community.
It began to take shape the minute Frank Martin showed up at the program 5 years ago. Not only did the behaviors of the players begin to the change, but the experience in and around the team changed. Fans began showing up the games in full force. Players put in extra work without even being told. One day at a time, the Gamecocks culture became the backbone of what sustained them to this March Madness run.
Embrace the Journey
No underdog can advance and win without first embracing the journey of doing it takes to become successful. It's like Gary Vaynerchuk says, "Love the journey. If you don't love the journey then you will never get through the first quarter."
Embracing the journey is all about falling in love with the work and the process in order to allow the results to happen. If your team is only working for is the results, it will be impossible to sustain any kind of long-term success.
Personal Ownership is Empowering
"It happened because we made it happen," said Frank Martin said after their massive upset victory over the mighty Duke Blue Devils in the second round. The only way to beat the big guys is to drop the excuses and take personal ownership over what is possible.
Too often you hear, "We are at a massive disadvantage compared to this team or that company." Truth is there will always be people or companies with more resources or better advantages. The question you have to ask yourself is: are you going to allow those things to stop you from trying or beating them one day at a time?
Set Lofty Standards
In 2012, Frank Martin knew taking the Gamecocks job was going to be an uphill battle. He also knew the only way to make progress was the set much higher standards than the ones currently in place.
Standards are simply "defining what good looks like." The only way to succeed as an underdog is to set standards across the organization that allows for each team members to choose to live up to them, fall short of them or hopefully exceed them.
Channel your South Carolina Gamecocks and be the next great underdog story.