Growing up, I always had a basketball in my hand.

I remember shooting hoops in the driveway of my parents’ house late at night with the driveway flood light on. After the 10th time of my mom asking me to come in and go to bed on a school night, she would turn the light out. I continued to shoot.

My drive, determination, and passions lead me to where I am today.  A basketball coach, dad and business leader who loves to grow people and companies.

So I thought with the NCAA tourney kicking off it was a great time to reflect on the lessons I have  learned in my years of playing, coaching as well as studying some of the best coaches in the game.

Here are my 5 leadership lessons for small business owners:

Cast the Vision

To go from where you are to where you want to be: you have to have a dream…

– Jim Valvano

Jimmy Valvano, the legendary coach for NC State, is known for his heroic battle with cancer and the legacy he has left behind:

jimmy v

He was also an amazing leader. As a coach at NC State he took time out once a year to have a vision celebration with his team. They would celebrate what it would feel like to win the national championship. In 1983 his vision became reality and the Wolfpack pulled off one the biggest upsets and best finishes in NCAA tournament history.:

Jim knew a key leadership principal: Vision leaks.

I speak to so many small business owners who get busy with the day to day operations of the business and forget to slow down and recast the vision. You and your team need to be reminded every 30 days why you get up out of bed every day and what great goal(s) you are pursuing.

Build a Winning Culture

More important than the scoreboard at the end of the game, great coaches build lasting cultures that drive the right behaviors, attitudes and values. When you look at a great basketball team, chances are that they’ve been great for a while.

Why is that?

Look at Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, UCLA and Butler just to name a few. At the center of their success is a culture engrained so deep it permeates to the coaches, players, and fans of the schools.

Butler University is a prime example. Like most small businesses competing against the corporate behemoth, Butler is a David among Goliath’s in the NCAA. However, year after year they continue to have success.


They have been intentional about creating a culture of success shaped by the following core values:

  1.      Humility – Those who humble themselves will be exalted
  2.      Passion – Do not be lukewarm, commit to excellence
  3.      Unity – Do not divide our house, team first
  4.      Servanthood – Make teammates better, lead by giving
  5.      Thankfulness – Learn from every circumstance

In your small business, what do you value?

Do you live your values or are they just a few words in the “About Us” section of your website? If you want to lead a winning business, invest in building a culture dedicated to success. Infuse your core values into every aspect of your business from the messaging on your site to your customer experience.

Recruit the RIGHT Teammates

I haven’t always recruited for the best talent. I’ve taken a few guys who would fit for different reasons. Leadership. Toughness”

– Tom Izzo

There’s an old adage that talent wins championships.

Not true – teammates do.

The best teams I have been a part of and coached have had the best team chemistry. In basketball, just like in your small business, everyone needs to know their role. Success only happens when you’re laser focused on what you do well as a team and you understand the strengths of each and every player on the roster.

A great tool to help you better discover where you and your team mates strengths lie is StrengthFinder 2.0. It is an interactive resource developed to hone in on your personal strengths while eliminating time wasted on trying to improve your weaknesses.

StrengthFinder is also super helpful when it’s time to hire that new employee, assess their strengths and determine where they can fit in on your team. If you need help, you can always leverage a Gallup Certified Strengthfinder coach to help you implement Strengthfinder for your small business.

Train to WIN

So imagine you’re the head coach of a college team and entered into the NCAA tournament having never practiced a single day. How would your team fair in the tourney? Would you make it to the final four? Of course not. Not when you’re facing other teams that have practiced and prepared all year long.

The greatest coaches in NCAA history put an emphasis on “Training” for success vs “Trying” for success. It’s not enough to just to show up and play.

“Champion” small business owners commit to learning and educating themselves everyday.  They are passionate about doing what it takes to develop into better leaders and grow healthier, more successful companies. If you’re looking for helpful resources you can check out and National Federation of Independent Business.

Be True to Your Game

As you check out the games in the NCAA tourney this year, each team has a different style. Some will be run and gun fast paced, some will slow it down and get the ball in to their big man. One team, Gonzaga, has made their living and success in past tournaments from behind the 3 point line. This season they are a best 40% from 3 point range.

The great thing about Gonzaga is they know what they are and what they are not. What if in this year’s tourney they decided to change up their style and get away from their 3 point shooting game? Well, it would be a disaster and their team would be watching the rest of the tournament from their homes on the big screen!

Your small business not only has a style and identity, but it’s your secret weapon. You know who you are and who your best customers are – so take a stand. When you are true to your game it gives you the best shot to attract the right fans and team mates, supercharging your business.

When it comes to running a small business making sure you have the right vision and a winning culture are catalysts to your success. Then when you bring in the right people, running the right plays, and stay true to your game that’s when the magic happens…..

What are some of your best lessons from the basketball court or the small business arena?