I'm a lifelong learner when it comes to improving my leadership abilities. And, surprisingly, I've found that, by analyzing the styles of the coaches who lead their teams into the annual NCAA College Basketball Tournament, I've learned more subtleties and nuances than I have from all the business books I've read.
And, this year's tournament is no different. Every coach has displayed different emotions, styles and techniques that I've either decided to adopt or discard as simply not being a good fit for me.
But, let's focus on this year's Final Four coaches and my take on each:
1.) Porter Moser, Loyola of Chicago. "The Overachiever"
How could I not begin this column without a quick snapshot of the top dog guiding this year's Cinderella team?
Moser may be the most animated and emotional of the four coaches, but having checked into his background, it turns out he's also an individual who's an advocate of lifelong learning and, like me, someone who has learned from past failures.
When he played college hoops at Creighton, the 6' 2" Moser's vertical jump was, shall we say, challenged. So, unbeknownst to his coach, Moser enrolled in a summer course promising to turn him into the next Michael Jordan. It didn't, of course, but when he was tested before the beginning of the next season, he'd increased his jump by a quarter-inch. Now, that may not seem like a whole lot, but basketball, like every other sport, is a game of inches.
Moser also bounced back from diversity after being fired as head coach at Illinois State. Rather than curling into a fetal position, Moser felt his coaching instincts were right. He was just applying them in the wrong basketball program.
I made the exact same decision after being shown the door at a large agency. I didn't doubt my skills. I just instinctively knew I would excel in a different workplace. And I created that workplace when I started my firm in 1995.
2.) John Beilein, Michigan. "The teacher"
Beilein is the only major college basketball coach to have never been an assistant coach first. That's like going from intern to CEO with no stops along the way. Impressive, no?
He began as a high school coach, graduated to the collegiate ranks and now finds himself at the helm of the powerful Wolverines.
Beilein sets himself apart by spending countless hours teaching his players how to master the nuances of every aspect of the game. In fact, his motto is, "Coach the whole player." So, rather than let a three-point specialist focus solely on that, Beilein insists the individual learn every other aspect of the sport (or lose his starting spot on the roster).
Great entrepreneurs do the same. While they may manage people who excel at, say, sales, the very best will insist the senior management team experience every part of the business (and, most importantly, put themselves in the customers' shoes and test the value proposition to make sure it rings true).
Beilein's other aphorism is this: "Recruit players. Not stars." Amen. I'd much rather hire an employee on his or her way up as opposed to bringing in someone who touts himself as a superstar digital expert who knows all there is to know.
The best teams and the best companies create an environment where egos are left in the locker room or in the elevator.
3.) Jay Wright, Villanova. "The Mentor"
Ever since beginning his coaching career at tiny Hofstra University, Wright hasn't focused on what he can get out of his players but, rather, what he can give them.That's my definition of mentorship.
When asked what he liked most about the players on his team, he responded by saying, "I love this part in their life when they're 18 to 22 and you get to teach them about life." Wright doesn't remember wins and losses but, rather, the lives he changed for the better.
I'd like to think I've helped more than one fledgling PR professional to become a more polished professional. Many former employees actually tell me they learned their craft by watching me do my thing. Heady stuff that I don't believe for a minute. But, what a legacy for an entrepreneur, a Final Four basketball coach or any professional in any line of work.
4.) Bill Self, Kansas. "The Traditionalist with an edge "
Self has a deep respect for the history of Kansas basketball. Dr. James Naismith, who invented basketball, coached at Kansas. So did the legendary Phog Allen. And Wilt Chamberlain played for the Jayhawks.
But, Self mixes tradition with an uncanny ability to understand the mindset of the Generation Z player; someone who has a tough time distinguishing between coaching and criticism.
That's what sets him apart from his Final Four competitors. It's the very same trait that enables great entrepreneurs to motivate wizened Boomers who've climbed the corporate ladder the old fashioned way, while simultaneously empowering a generation of workers who were given a trophy just for showing up to a soccer match.
All four coaches seem like great guys, but Self is the coach I'd pick to be my mentor. I struggle every day with the challenge of creating the right workplace for the youngest, oldest and brightest employees as well as those who may very well be better served choosing a different field.
Oh, and by the way, I'm picking Michigan to win it all.