By Adam Mendler, CEO of The Veloz Group
With the NBA season entering its final stretch and playoff basketball right around the corner, casual fans and hoops enthusiasts alike are feeling additional excitement with each dribble, pass and shot. While my days of playing basketball are well behind me, I love watching the game and believe that there is much we can learn from it. Here are a few lessons entrepreneurs can take away from the popular sport:
Remember that leaders make headlines, but teams win.
While entrepreneurs are often glamorized as conquering heroes, and a perception can mistakenly manifest that great business success can be reached alone, no accomplished entrepreneur has attained meaningful success without a great team behind him or her. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos are regularly portrayed as lone rangers, but in reality, they led (and in the case of Bezos, lead) companies that were comprised of lots of people. Today, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon in aggregate employ just under 900,000 workers.
From the outside looking in, the NBA is a league dominated by stars. Media coverage largely consists of conversations about a handful of players. But for LeBron James or Steph Curry to win a championship, they need to be surrounded by a great team. While James is considered the game's best player since Michael Jordan, he only won NBA titles when he teamed up with other superstar players, first in pairing with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami and then with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Cleveland. And as great as Steph Curry is, without Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, he would probably have as many rings as Charles Barkley.
Find complementary pieces.
Building a winning team, in business and in basketball, requires finding people who will not only perform well individually but will excel within a collective setting. Players need to complement each other on the court, covering all of the competencies required of a winning basketball team: ball handling, passing, shooting, defending the perimeter, etc. A team with five point guards or five centers would never win because opponents would exploit the inherent imbalance. The Phoenix Suns had a starting five that included four guards, and the team was extremely fun to watch. But they never won any championships.
Like NBA general managers, entrepreneurs must ensure that their workforce is well-balanced. It may be tempting to invest all of your resources into engineering or marketing, but without personnel adept at operations, finance, management, etc., your organization will suffer. And while strong leadership is critical to the success of any organization -- not just at the top, but across all levels of management -- without great workers who can execute, the best marching orders will go to waste. Diversity and balance across all measures of your workforce are important; a team that is too white, too male or too millennial can be too homogeneous in its thinking.
Conserve your energy and know when to elevate your game.
Entrepreneurship is an incredibly encompassing undertaking. We work long hours and think about our work wherever we go. We are also humans, and after charging extremely hard, we can get burned out. Professional basketball players are humans, too. They have an 82-game regular season followed -- for many players in the league -- by the postseason.
You don't have to watch much basketball to see that the level of intensity during the playoffs is at a completely different level compared to the regular season. The games are far more important and the players play a lot harder. During the regular season, the energy level in the last few minutes of a close game will always be considerably higher than it was up to that point. NBA athletes recognize the importance of pacing themselves: Regular season games are not nearly as important as playoff games, especially in a league in which the majority of teams make playoffs, so everyone plays the long game.
Entrepreneurs need to pace themselves, too. Remember that tomorrow is another day. Work hard, but make sure you are taking care of yourself, getting enough sleep and exercise, and staying fresh enough to be effective. In basketball and in entrepreneurship alike, working yourself to the bone can pay short-term dividends, but will hurt you in the long run. Maintain perspective, and remember that despite the pressures that may have you feeling otherwise, entrepreneurship is a marathon and not a sprint.
As in basketball, there will be times when you will need to kick your performance into the highest gear you have. Know when to elevate your game and know when to dial it back.
Adam Mendler is CEO of The Veloz Group and Founder of Beverly Hills Chairs, Custom Tobacco and Veloz Solutions.