The NCAA men’s college basketball tournament – affectionately known as “March Madness” – is a sports fan’s dream. Online brackets are completed by men, women and children both for fun and in competitive office pools. Some complete one bracket, while others as many as they can. My wife, who is not a big basketball fan, even completed one this year. I applauded her picks until my daughter let me in on a little secret — she did it via “auto draft.” Oh well. At least she joined the crowd!

This season – more than any other – shows us that anything can happen. Here are some takeaways to consider from this year’s tournament:

We all like to root for the underdog. We all like a Cinderella – or “feel good” story. Disney has created movies over the years that pull at our heart strings. In this year’s tournament, we have had several firsts:

  • A #16 seed (UMBC) beating a #1 seed (Virginia)
  • Three of the teams in the Elite 8 were seeded 9th or lower
  • One of the four Regionals lost its 4 top seeds before the Sweet 16

When it comes to your workplace, it is important to give your “underdogs” a chance. Read my blog on Identifying and Assisting an Underdog for suggestions on how you can do your part to push people forward personally and professionally.

Don’t take anything for granted. Predictions are just that; you still have to “play the game.” As mentioned above, Virginia was the number 1 overall seed in the tournament. Many predicted them to win the national championship this season, as they had a great regular season record, won the ACC tournament and had the national coach of the year in Tony Bennett. Yet they suffered the first loss by a #1 team to a #16 seed. Coach Bennett said after the surprising loss, “When you step into the arena…consequences can be historic…and you have to deal with it.” Keep your team focused on seeing projects through to their desired result. Don’t ever assume prematurely.

Passion and teamwork go a long way in producing desired results. Ryan Odom, head coach of UMBC, remarked about his team’s monumental upset of Virginia by saying, “I think it’s pretty easy to tell…these guys have passion…this game means a lot to them. It was just a special, special effort.” Coach Odom put his team in a position to win, but they had to believe in themselves and their teammates, as well as his vision for the team. In addition, they had to execute the game plan their staff put together with precision.

Strong leadership is key to succeeding in a “high stakes,” rapidly changing environment. The four remaining teams all have coaches who are seasoned. They focus on process, composure and humility, among other things. March Madness is difficult because teams must make on the fly adjustments in preparation for teams they are typically not familiar with. A staff member of John Beilein, Michigan’s head coach, said that, “…he [Coach Beilein] listens to us and trusts us…humility is what separates him. He doesn’t approach anything like he has all the answers.” Practice makes perfect. Coach Beilein has been coaching basketball since 1975 and loves what he does. Beilein has stuck with coaching for over 40 years because he likes to make a difference on those he coaches. There is a great story about Austin Hatch, a player who committed to Michigan but was unable to play due to physical ailments. Coach Beilein honored his commitment to Hatch because Beilein understands that there are things more important than sports. Read the story about Beilein’s influence on Hatch.

A team’s chemistry often determines their level of success. After his team’s loss in the Elite 8, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton stated, “this group represented the very best in college athletics has to offer in their connectedness, selflessness and love for one another.” Michigan finished the regular season on a winning streak and finished by winning the Big Ten tournament. Beilein’s ability to connect and create alignment on team goals can lead to many stories like those in March Madness this year. Think about what you are doing to improve your team’s chemistry and confidence. 

Enjoy the Final Four! I look forward to seeing which team will rise to the top.

If you have thoughts or insights about the tournament that you would like share, please email us at info@lc-consultants.com.

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