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The search for life lesson’s goes beyond the boundaries of a specific discipline, expertise or interest. Few would argue that, in recent years, the world of business and sports have operated less like Mars and Venus, separate but equal, and more like Twin Peaks, separate, but connected by a common base. The most recent NCAA basketball tournament has been a bizarre display of predictions gone wild. Yet, what has been interesting has been some of the surrounding dialogue that pertains to building blocks, teamwork, consistency and the ultimate prize. In doing so, the NCAA basketball tournament has provided some unique insights that have a direct bearing on how a business can achieve consistent success.

Starting with the curse of the ‘short-termer’, most coaches would agree that it is difficult to build long-term success into a program without having the commitment of individuals who take a long-term view of success. As several of the top seeds fell short of their tournament goals, the focus shifted to discussions as to whether or not certain team members would be around to help their team make another run. Sports reporters asked several of the recognized ‘stars’ on the team if they would be back or if they planned to make themselves eligible for the NBA draft. Well, those kinds of departures will put holes into the foundation of any program. All the remorse about ‘not playing with my team members ever again’ or ‘I hoped to have won a championship before moving on”, becomes a little hard to hear since at the root of the issue was the intentional short-term path to achieve an individual long-term goal. Now, no one would begrudge a person trying to maximize the full use of his or her talent in order to secure a bright future. However, it does present problems for coaches, or managers, who have a long-term vision for their program. Do you recruit the exceptionally talented and, obvious, short-term player who can provide instant success? Short-term players can provide a quick turn around, but it can wreak havoc on the foundation. At a time when there is an abundance of talent available, is in the best interest of the business organization to go with the talented short-term player knowing that long-term success could be compromised?

The tournament has, also, produced more than its share of ‘Cinderella’ teams. When looking at some of the factors these teams have in common, the one that stands out the most is the willingness to commit to a long-term goal. Several of the ‘Cinderella’s’ were composed of team members who have played together across the four years of their eligibility and who have been able to measure their success in incremental steps on a long path to recognition. The ‘Cinderella’s are teams with individuals who have blended their talents into a consistent force, never wavering in their commitment to a larger, more important goal. Rather than lose a ‘star’ to the NBA, they maintained commitment to each other and overcame the challenge of more talented opponents and the critique of less informed pundits. While the ‘Cinderella’s’, eventually, gave way to a far superior team, what they gained in recognition and support far outweighs the loss. The process of leading in an organization is reflected in the overarching philosophy that guides the strategic choices. The ‘Cinderella’s consistently make the case for recruiting for commitment and developing the talent as opposed to the short-term lure of the ‘star’ who is just passing through your galaxy.

It has been fun to watch the two competing philosophies work their way through the NCAA tournament. As CEO’s and other leaders, within their respective organizations, cheer and cajole their bracket choices, when the tournament winner is finally crowned, here’s hoping these lessons can be seen as useful ways to maintain a competitive edge.

© 2013 Lee E. Meadows
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