March Madness, Great Coaching, and Leadership Characteristics

If you follow college basketball, there’s no better time of year than March to see leadership characteristics. There are few sporting events that bring the excitement and drama of the NCAA tourney.

March Madness, Great Coaching, and Leadership Characteristics

And if you’re someone who thinks about leadership, you may—as I often do—keep a particular eye on the coaching. It’s an area that always seems to draw legendary personalities, from Bobby Knight’s fiery temper to Pat Summitt’s icy stare, from Dean Smith’s fatherly attention to John Wooden’s philosophies.

It was Wooden who once said,

A coach must never forget that he is a leader and not merely a person with authority.

It’s a distinction that anyone in a leadership position would do well to remember.

What other leadership characteristics can we see in the best coaches? Here are a few that stand out for me:


Coaches, like any leader, are charged with clear lines of communication, whether it’s explaining objectives and strategies to the entire group or helping an individual identify areas for improvement. They need a sound structure for communication so there’s no room for misunderstanding, even in a brief time-out with the pressure on.

Know your players.

Who’s a good shooter? Who’s a great rebounder? Who has the most solid defense? Who brings people together and inspires everyone? Before you can get the most from your team, you need to know each individual’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s a level of knowledge that comes only from spending time working closely together.

Have a strong playbook.

Plan a strategy that takes everything into account—your team’s best and worst points, your competitors’ best and worst points, what you’ve learned from earlier successes and failures, and the context and setting.

Be flexible.

It’s not a matter of whether the unexpected will happen, but when. Whether it’s a sudden injury in a key player, a change of the opponents’ strategy, unexpected pressure, or just a time when nothing in the well-thought-out playbook is working, there are moments when you have to be ready to make adjustments.

Invest – Don’t just coach, Mentor.

However great someone’s ability is, teaching him or her how to make the most of their talent takes time, attention to detail, a willingness to do the hard work, and a relationship built on trust. When you’re working with people on basketball (or business), you’re really working on life. Investing professionally and personally can have a huge impact. Point to the big picture for everyone on your team, and then watch them go far—collectively and individually.

Take your team to top.

{Image Credit: Airman 1st Class Kerelin Molina}

Get Your FREE Chapter of Jeremy's book -