As a boy, when I wasn’t working on the farm, often I was shooting baskets. While my high school career stalled for a variety of reasons (being small, 5’9”, and having mononucleosis as a sophomore didn’t help!), I’ve always loved the game.

While I still love to pick up a ball, dribble and shoot, most of my focus now is on watching, especially college games.

Time spent watching and really observing these exciting games has gotten me thinking about the lessons we all can take from the paid leaders of these teams – the head coaches. Even if you’re not a basketball fan, I encourage you to read on because the lessons are powerful for everyone – fan and non-fan alike.

These seven lessons are reinforced for me by the best basketball coaches. Look for the lessons you can apply today.

Great coaches flex their system, but not their philosophy. All great coaches have a coaching philosophy. They know it takes skill in all phases of the game, but it’s their philosophy that informs their focus. Some coaches always have great rebounding teams; some focus on a fast break offense; some are defensive minded. Yet, if their current lineup gives them different strengths, they may flex their system or make adjustments to best take advantage of the current talent. Non-basketball leaders must do the same thing – focus on your core philosophy, yet be flexible in implementation based on the circumstances and talent on your team.

Great coaches measure performance. Of course, wins and losses are measured, but the best coaches measure far deeper than that. Assist to turnover ratios, number of offensive rebounds, number of steals, and free throw percentage in the last five minutes of games are just a few examples. What they can measure in their context is almost endless. Coaches who focus on rebounding will have deeper and more extensive rebounding measures that they follow. Those measures inform them on progress, development needs and more. The important lesson for us is that they measure those things that are important to winning, based on their philosophy. We must do the same if we want to achieve top performance.

Great coaches practice everything (in a variety of ways). Supervised practice for college basketball teams begins several weeks before games. And once the season begins teams still practice most every day (including having walk throughs and film sessions on game day). They practice fundamentals and simulate particular game situations, so players are prepared for every situation on the floor. Most leaders in organizations fall far short in this area. Are you taking or allowing time for walk throughs, practice and review of results? Are you allowing and helping people prepare for the tough situations that may occur on their jobs? If not, this is an opportunity area for you and those you lead.

Great coaches recognize and utilize passion and enthusiasm. Have you ever seen a really disengaged basketball coach? Like non-athletic leaders, different coaches have different personalities, and therefore their passions and enthusiasm may manifest differently, but they all show passion – typically so plainly that even the last person in the arena knows how the coach feels from moment to moment. They all are enthusiastic, and they all support and extend the passion and enthusiasm of their teams. Are you doing the same?

Great coaches are products of their coaches. Watch college basketball for long and you will hear about “coaching trees.” This coach coached under that guy, who actually played for coach X. Coaches obviously benefit from a network of past bosses (a lesson for us), but the best also regularly credit their former coaches and mentors in helping to develop their skills and philosophies. Generally speaking, I’m not sure most leaders are as consciously aware of what they have learned from their former bosses. There are two lessons here. Make it a priority to learn from the best, and reflect and recognize what lessons and principles you have learned from others that you can apply for yourself as a leader. (And, give credit to your coaches as often as you can!)

Great coaches define their team broadly. The best coaches want their players to succeed both on and off the court. The best coaches start or extend these “coaching trees” by developing their assistant coaches. The best college coaches recognize the role they play as a part of the larger organization (the college or university in their cases). Leaders can learn from this example as well. When you define your role broadly you allow yourself to have greater impact and more overall success.

Great coaches coach! They aren’t just managers or leaders. They actually coach! They recognize that an important part of their job is to develop others and help them reach their potential. Perhaps they have an advantage because their job title is coach. Your title may not remind you of this priority every day (and you may say you have other priorities). However, if you look closely at the other everyday tasks of a head coach you will find many of the same tasks and distractions you face, yet the best “coaches” don’t stop coaching. The best “leaders” shouldn’t either.

Potential Pointer: Whether you love the game or have never dribbled the ball, the lessons from great basketball coaches are many. The seven sited in this article are just a start. At the heart of each is that these leaders recognize that part of their job, just like every leader, is to coach their team to higher performance.

Kevin is a bestselling author, speaker, trainer, consultant and the Chief Potential Officer of the Kevin Eikenberry Group ( Kevin will be interviewing world-class coaches like Marshall Goldsmith, Jack Canfield, a couple NCAA Division I coaches, and others to get a deeper understanding of the power of coaching during the next episode of RemarkableTV: Coach and Be Coached. It’s free and tips off at 11am ET on March 16. Learn more and register now at

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