Whether you’re a Kentucky Wildcat fan or not, few would argue the amazing demonstration of talent and athleticism as this year’s season gets off to an exciting start. Outside of speculation of an undefeated season, a national championship or even if they could beat an NBA team, what can we learn from the games played thus far, Coach Calipari’s leadership and team commitment?
Specifically, I think ten things:
- The words we use. Calipari doesn’t use the word, “substitutions,” for those players who don’t start, he uses, “reinforcements.” Sure it might just be semantics but the words we use are very important. Calipari’s success in recruiting this year actually created challenges. Kentucky has nine McDonald’s All-Americans and with 10 players measuring at least 6’6, seven players at least 6’8 and four players at least 6’10, Kentucky has more size than most NBA teams. When Dakari Johnson and Cauley-Stein decided not to go pro after last season, Calipari actually had too much talent. That’s where the idea to “platoon” with two separate five-man units was born. Not “subs,” but “reinforcements.” Not “second string,” but “platoons.” The key question is how careful are we with the words we use? With family members? With team members? With each other? A friend of mine reminds me that one “aw #@$%” erases ten “atta boys!”
- Calipari helps his team see the “big picture.”It’s a given that all of Calipari’s players will have the opportunity to make money playing basketball when they leave UK. They may not start or even play an entire game, but they will have a bright future if they play as a team and committed to the “big picture.” How good of a job do we do in reminding our team of the “big picture?” Does that “big picture” inspire excellence? Are they committed?
- Calipari is a Level 5 Leader. In Jim Collins best selling book, Good to Great, he describes a Level 5 leader as someone who builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend or personal humility and professional will. A Level 5 leader has an ego, but the ego is about the organization and not about them. After winning the national championship in 2012, Calipari said, “It’s not about me. It’s not about the one who plays the entire game. It’s about that young man who didn’t get much playing time this year, could have been playing every second at most Division 1 schools in the Country but would rather be here instead. That’s who this is about” Is our ego more about the organization or about us? How good of a job do we do in thanking all members of our team and not just the superstars?
- Managing expectations and keeping egos in check: After the Kansas romp, the Wildcats played a scrappy Boston University and struggled. They won but it wasn’t the same performance. Calipari commented, “Our players are not robots, they’re kids. We’re not going to play every game like we did against Kansas.”
- Speaking favorably of the competition. I think this is something business could learn from sports. I have respect for someone who says, “They’re a good company, I can see why you use them. I would be honored if the opportunity ever presents itself you would consider using us,” versus downgrading the competition. Calipari and his opponents almost always find opportunities to praise the opposing team. After the Boston University game, Coach Joe Jones said, “I’ve never seen a team that deep and that long. You guys are going to have a lot of fun nights.” How often have we praised our competition? Have we been guilty of downgrading our competition for no particular reason? In today’s business climate today’s competition could be tomorrow’s partner.
- Make needed corrections. Almost every game, whether Kentucky or another team, the team that plays the second half is not the same team that played the first half. They make the needed corrections and in most cases is a far more effective team. Even on the sidelines and unlike most coaches, Calipari disciplines with compassion versus demeaning a player with screaming and cursing. Do we pause to ask what we need to be doing differently to achieve true greatness in the “second half” of our lives? Do we discipline with compassion?
- IQ in addition to EQ (Emotional Intelligence.)Calipari is no doubt a genius on the court. But he’s also the definition of Emotional Intelligence. He naturally connects with others in a deep and visceral way. His players love him. His fans love him. He lights up a room and a gymnasium when he enters. People naturally want to be around him. Your IQ is high but what about your EQ?
- Complacency Management. After the Wildcats beat Pikeville in its first exhibition game Coach Kelly Wells was asked to identify a possible UK weakness. He offered this word of caution. “I think there will be times when they have to avoid getting fat-and-happy. They have to stay hungry all the time and all night.” Using a metaphor of a rubber band between two index fingers, Peter Senge in his book The Fifth Disciplinesuggests we create and maintain “creative tension” with our teams. Too loose and we’re bored. Too stretched and we’re about to pop. With a healthy tension we’re at our best. Many athletes call this state-of-mind “flow.” How are we doing creating and maintaining “creative tension” with our teams? Are they bored, challenged or on the verge of a heart attack?
- Empower your team.During a post game interview Calipari commented on one of his players showing signs of fatigue during the second half. He relayed the conversation he immediately had with the “platoon” not on the floor. Calipari told his team, “If you notice one of your teammates wearing down don’t wait for me to put you in, put yourself in!” Are you empowering your teams or are they waiting for you to make all the decisions?
- Wearing the 100-pound coat.Calipari describes the pressure of playing for Kentucky like wearing a 100-pound coat while your competition is wearing a windbreaker. Each opponent prepares and plays Kentucky like it’s a final four game. Calipari tells recruits if you can’t take that kind of pressure than Kentucky is not for you. How well do you handle the competitive pressure coming at you everyday? Do we prepare our team for that kind of pressure?
No one knows what the season holds for the Kentucky Wildcats or for that matter what the upcoming season holds for us. When thinking about making predictions for 2015, I think of my friend, the late David Garvin, founder of Camping World. Every year, he would make the following eight predictions:
(1) Business will continue to go where invited and remain where appreciated.
(2) Reputations will continue to be made by many acts and lost by only one.
(3) People will continue to prefer doing business with friends.
(4) Performance will continue to outsell promises.
(5) Enthusiasm will be as contagious as ever.
(6) Know-how will surpass guess-how.
(7) Trust, not tricks, will keep customers loyal.
(8) The extra mile will have no traffic jams.