Leadership Lessons from March Madness

12642760_446785762177881_6508244049887184718_nIt’s inevitable. Once March Madness begins, workplace productivity plunges. Office pools and brackets push aside work schedules, and employees spend more time around the water cooler discussing teams and players than working. Bosses tear their hair out trying to get the job done. And forget about fighting it. This is one of the most exciting spectator sports events of the year. Literally millions will watch the country’s best college basketball teams fight for dominance and the chance to become this year’s NCAA champion.

But there’s more to learn here than the game of basketball. You can pick up many valuable leadership lessons from the NCAA tournament. Let’s take a look at a few of those major lessons I can share with you on leadership.

  1. Just as the morale of a basketball team must start with the coach, in business, morale must start at the top and work its way through all levels of the organization. Dispassionate leaders pass their lack of engagement onto their staffs, and that sets the stage for high employee turnover. Employees, like basketball players, respond to leaders who infuse their own level of passion into their teams, resulting in improved workplace engagement and productivity.Fortunately, work passion is an achievable, do-it-yourself process. Always remember that it must be self-initiated. On the basketball court, no player has been tasked with the job of pleasing the coach. The same holds true in business. It’s your job as leader to make it happen.
  2. Basketball players learn quickly from their coaches that attitude is everything. Successful leaders, like basketball coaches, are ambitious and self-motivated. They wake up each morning with a positive attitude that carries them throughout the rest of the day.Each leader at work has a similar choice. We can either wake up with a positive attitude or grumble and groan with a negative attitude. I look at it this way: If I wake up above ground in the morning and can see myself in the mirror, I’m positive. Positive attitudes can take us a long way; leaders with positive attitudes can take everybody else around them on the same journey. They’re the pied piper of business.

    Success requires a whatever-it-takes attitude; whatever it takes to get the job done, within ethical business constraints. There are no shortcuts. Ethical business constraints is a key term because we‘ve witnessed, over the last few years, despicable behavior, with the fall of Anderson, Enron, and many other companies.

  3. Development is another key to keeping promising basketball players engaged and motivated. The same holds true in business. By encouraging and providing ongoing personnel development, you create a pipeline of talented people who are full of ideas, thoughts, and inspiration. This sends a strong, motivating message to each employee: We care and we’re willing to invest in you. You’ll then be rewarded with tremendous engagement and enthusiasm, positioning your organization as an employer of choice.
  4. On the basketball court and in business, teams fail when players lack the time and training required to complete their assignments. As leader of your organization, here’s how to prevent it: Perform a reality check. Ask yourself how much time and how much training your people need to fulfill the demands you place on them. Next, determine whether your team, based on members’ experience levels, requires more, less, or the same amount of time and training. Seek input from team members, asking them to honestly assess how long specific components of the task will take. Your goal is to develop an accurate, realistic timeline.
  5. Team captains in basketball and in business should be one of the most respected members of the group. If you have chosen a team captain in your organization to lead a task, allow this person to delegate responsibilities as he or she sees fit. Make sure the captain knows the difference between delegation and abdication. The team captain’s job is to set the vision, delineate strategies (often with the help of other team members), and provide the conditions and support needed for success.As for autonomy, don‘t micromanage your team (or team captain). Give members an attainable goal and enough autonomy to complete it. Monitor progress, but avoid being overly intrusive. You’re a manager—not a babysitter.

    Let team members feel empowered enough to embrace responsibilities and enjoy a sense of ownership. Remind the team that you are available if anyone needs a consultation.

  6. Before a successful basketball coach blames individual players for failing to handle his position well, he needs to assess first whether he fulfilled his responsibilities. No different in business. Did you, leader of your organization, clearly explain your goals and expectations? Did you communicate effectively? Did you ask team members to describe, in their own words, their perceived role in completion of the task? Did you regularly check in with team members to ensure they were on the right course? Did you follow up, as necessary? Did you inspire them? Building high-performing teams requires open communication, constructive dialogue, cooperation, and appreciation of what each person brings to the team.

Now, let’s get back to March Madness. What are your final four choices?

Jeff Wolf is the author of Seven Disciplines of a Leader and founder and president of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC, a premier global consulting firm that specializes in helping people, teams and organizations achieve maximum effectiveness. A dynamic speaker and highly requested executive coach, he was named one of the country’s top 100 thought leaders by the prestigious Leadership Excellence Magazine. jeff@wolfmotivation.com (858) 638-8260


Motivate and Inspire People

According to a recent Gallup Business Journal article: only 30% of American workers…were engaged, or involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their workplace. An alarming 70% are not showing up to work committed to delivering their best performance, and this has serious implications for the bottom line of individual companies and the U.S. economy as a whole.

Leaders Discuss Motivation

How can leaders best motivate employees? Here are some answers, expressed in their own words:

  • “Great leaders facilitate, they don’t command or control like infantry officers in combat. Even under those dire circumstances, great infantry officers understand how to motivate troops. They recognize the need for discipline, but the best of them temper it through motivational techniques. So, why do some business leaders feel the compunction to act as infantry officers (as they see them)? It’s ego, pure and simple. And, in the long run, it doesn’t work. Great leaders understand that facilitation is the key to motivating employees.”
  • “Continuous learning is the foundation for improvement and the cornerstone of motivation. When employees learn, they grow, and when they grow they are motivated to do better jobs, to engage, to participate, to be part of the team. Learning is an inclusive experience that brings everybody into the fold.”
  • “You’ll really see the effects of motivation in periods of crisis. That’s when a motivated team pulls together, and their combined strength is mighty powerful. It’s equivalent to synergism, where one plus one equals three. Without that motivation you don’t have engagement, and when you don’t have engagement, results seldom exceed mediocrity.”
  • “Contrary to what some leaders believe, compassionate management isn’t for sissies. It doesn’t mean abandoning performance standards at the expense of placating employees. It does mean empathizing with people who have problems by driving to the core reasons for those problems and providing employees with the tools to fix those problems. Compassionate management, in that sense, is a potent motivational tool.”
  • “Never underestimate the effect your bearing, your facial expressions, how you walk and behave, has on employees. If you hold yourself erect, maintain a calm demeanor, keep the expression on your face consistent, and walk with a sense of purpose, even under the most stressful circumstances, it will spill over to employees, from workers through executives, and motivate them to face their problems with a sense of purpose and resolve.”
  • “Motivation doesn’t work when you have the wrong people working for you. Highly effective leaders hire outstanding performers, place them in the right jobs, empower them, and watch as they accomplish great things.”
  • “Successful leaders never accept the status quo. They continually ask questions and seek answers and alternatives that are thoroughly explored. This is the kind of intellect that identifies hard-thinking employees and gives them the opportunity to excel.”
  • “It’s difficult to let go, to assign employees the responsibility to what you now do. But if want a highly motivated workforce, that’s exactly what you must do. You’ll be amazed at what people accomplish when they’re given both the authority and responsibility for their work.”
  • “True leaders meet problems head on. They don’t evade, delay, avoid, and make excuses. Their ability to see things clearly, to possess the fortitude to accept responsibility, sends a clear message throughout the organization and motivates employees to do the same.”
  • “One of the most destructive influences in a company is politics that flourishes unchecked. When employees see that real achievements take a backseat to fawning, servility, and insincere flattery, their motivation goes into free fall. When you find a successful leader know that they have eliminated that pernicious influence.”
  • “In the successful company, its leaders have curbed the need to extract as much as possible from employees and replaced it with the need to instill value in them.”
  • “One of the greatest tests of any leader is the ability to identify the strengths and weaknesses of employees and find ways to place them in jobs that magnify those strengths and minimizes weaknesses.”

by Jeff Wolf

Contact us today to discuss our leadership development programs, executive coaching or to have nationally acclaimed speaker and award winning author Jeff Wolf speak at your next meeting, conference or convention: madams@wolfmotivation.com 858-638-8260 or www.wolfmotivation.com

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Building an Optimal Team – Team Health

By Jeff Wolf –  Seven Disciplines of a Leader

All the competitive advantages – strategy, technology, finance, marketing – that we’ve pursued in the past are gone. The disciplines haven’t disappeared, but they have lost their power as meaningful competitive advantages, as real differentiators that can set your company apart. Why? Virtually every organization has access to the best thinking and practices on those topics. As information has become ubiquitous, it’s almost impossible to sustain an advantage based on intellectual ideas.

However, one simple, reliable, and virtually free competitive advantage remains – team health. Healthy teams all but eliminate politics and confusion from their cultures. As a result, productivity and morale soar, and good people almost never leave. For those leaders who are a bit skeptical, rest assured that none of this is touchy-feely or soft. It is as tangible and practical as anything else…and even more important.

Even the smartest team will eventually fail if it is unhealthy. But a healthy team will find a way to succeed. Without politics and confusion, it will become smarter and tap into all of the intelligence and talent it has.

Team health requires real work and discipline, maintained over time, and the courage to objectively confront problems hindering true team achievement. Leaders must confront themselves, their peers, and the dysfunction within their teams with honesty and persistence. Persistent leaders walk into uncomfortable situations and address issues that prevent them from realizing the potential that eludes them.

Four Disciplines

To get healthy, leaders need to take four simple, but difficult, steps:

  1. Build a cohesive leadership team. Get the leaders of the organization to behave in a functional, cohesive way. If the people responsible for running a team, department, or organization are behaving in dysfunctional ways, then that dysfunction will cascade down and prevent organizational health. And yes, there are concrete steps a leadership team can take to prevent this.
  1. Create clarity. Ensure that the members of that leadership team are intellectually aligned around simple but critical questions. Leaders need to be clear on topics such as why the organization exists and what the most important priority is for the next few months, and eliminate any gaps between them   Then people who work one, two, or three levels below have clarity about what they should do to make the organization successful.
  1. Overcommunicate clarity. After the first two steps (behavioral and intellectual alignment), leaders can take the third step: over-communicating. Leaders of healthy organizations constantly repeat themselves and reinforce what is true and important. They err on the side of saying too much, rather than too little.
  1. Reinforce clarity. Leaders use simple human systems to reinforce clarity in answering critical questions. They custom design any process that involves people from hiring and firing to performance management and decision-making to support and emphasize the uniqueness of the organization.

Healthy teams get better at meetings. Without making a few simple changes to the way meetings happen, a team will struggle to maintain its health. Healthy teams rarely fail. When politics, ambiguity, dysfunction, and confusion are reduced to a minimum, people are empowered to design products, serve customers, solve problems, and help one another. Healthy teams recover from setbacks, attract the best people, and create exciting opportunities. People are happier, the bottom line is stronger, and executives are at peace when they know they’ve fulfilled their most important responsibility: creating a culture of success.

Applying the principles of great performance is hard, but the effects of deliberate practice are cumulative. The more of a head start you get in developing people, the more difficult it will be for competitors to catch you.

–Jeff Wolf

Contact us today to discuss how we can partner together to help develop and grow your leaders and teams: jeff@wolfmotivation.com, 858-638-8260 or www.wolfmotivation.com

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Priorities, Planning, and Execution

We have a greater need now to be highly effective through clear focus on purpose, centered on principles, and execution around priorities. If there is little agreement on purpose and direction, the culture is characterized by control, contention, and confusion. The reason for this tragic ineffectiveness is a lack of focus and execution.

Priorities. Focusing on priorities unleashes talent and energy and creates a culture where each person shares a common focus and executes around priorities. When change accelerates, formerly successful processes and practices don’t work. Nothing fails like past successes. Today everyone must have the same purpose, principles, and focus; they must know who they are, what they are trying to do, where they are trying go, why they need to get there, and how they will cooperate. It must be internalized. Leaders get people on the same page, executing around priorities, which releases talent and energy.

Planning. Set goals that lead. Well-defined goals are among the most effective tools available to any leader, yet most leaders don’t set goals that lead their people in the right direction. The purpose of this discipline is to produce clear and measurable annual goals. Pursuing these goals will lead people to align their daily activities with the few vital objectives set in the strategy. The result is a brief goals statement that every team member can support.

Execution. Work the plan. One of the best learning tools is the individual quarterly plan. In this discipline, every person works with the team leader to develop individual plans for the coming quarter. These goals are reviewed and aligned with company goals. This plan serves as a time-saving template for a weekly status report. Every person knows how to set goals, understand priorities, take responsibility for those goals, become accountable, report progress, and solve problems.

Let’s examine the previous three points in more detail. We put first things first; we’re proactive and responsible; we’re a product of our decisions, not our conditions; and we regularly renew our focus and execution.

  1. Through this discipline, a plan, is born. The plan depicts the desired end or aim and specifies the best means for achieving it.
  2. This discipline seeks to optimally organize resources to achieve the plan. This requires identifying all actions and activities and organizing them to maximize resources and results.
  3. Measuring Performance. This practice recognizes that what gets measured gets managed and gets done. This discipline measures how well these activities are performed and signals management when they are poorly performed.
  4. This means assigning all of the plan’s activities to employees to perform (nothing left to chance). This leads to attaining the plan. Executing expectantly engages and empowers employees to ideally perform their assigned activities and holds them accountable when they don’t.
  5. Following up. This practice generates actionable feedback, aligns expected outcomes with actual performance, instills cooperation and accountability, and reinforces making right things happen.
  6. Real-time reporting. This takes collected feedback (timely, reliable, and accurate performance data), shares it, and makes it readily available so mangers can take action to address problems.
  7. Problem-solving. This occurs when problems are identified, understood, addressed, and monitored. This requires a system that provides quantitative and qualitative feedback with which to resolve problems and improve performance. This system ensures the constant use of the seven learned disciplines. Systems drive action, and these actions produce certain outcomes.

You can replace ineffective habits of coasting, avoiding responsibility, taking the easy way out, and exercising little initiative or will-power with the discipline to focus on the important but not necessarily urgent matters of your life, thereby gaining leverage and influence. You go from victim to creative resource, from futility to hope, from having can’t and won’t power to being focused and having can and will power and the discipline to realize your top priorities.


Contact us today to discuss how we can partner together to help develop your leaders: jeff@wolfmotivation.com, 858-638-8260 or www.wolfmotivation.com


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Teamwork and Strong Teams

Effective leaders know that their organizations will realize substantial benefits by building strong teams to reach their objectives and strategic goals. Bringing people together on the same page is highly effective because people can accomplish more collectively than individually.


Every participant brings a unique skillset to the team. Some may be highly creative at coming up with new ideas, others may excel at details, and some have the ability to move the group’s ideas forward and follow through to completion. It’s rare to find one person who has all of these skills. By working together and combining what everyone brings to the table, the group’s goals will be realized much faster.


Teamwork also builds camaraderie and encourages open communication. When every member is focused on a single outcome, strong relationships and trust are built, one of the most important aspects of teamwork, if not the most. Every team member must have complete trust in fellow participants as well as faith in others’ desire to work in the best interests of the team and company.


When building a strong team, leaders should look at each member’s strengths and abilities to determine whether the group can gel. When there’s a good fit, teams combine their strengths to achieve the group’s overall goals. Leaders should also nurture team growth and development to ensure everyone contributes in a positive way.


To build strong teams, develop a team culture that includes:


  • Defined expectations, clear goals, objectives, and shared vision.
  • An established timeline with individual and team accountability.
  • A clearly articulated purpose for the team’s existence.
  • Team members’ complete acknowledgement of the roles they play.
  • Well-defined processes/procedures on how work will be done.
  • Team access to all available resources required to reach the goal.
  • A diverse team composed of members with complementary skills.
  • Individual and group commitment to the work to be performed.
  • The shared knowledge that each team member is valued and will be rewarded for hard work and effort.
  • Clear, honest, and open communication among all team members.
  • Rules of conduct, including steps to resolve emerging conflicts.


As companies struggle to become more innovative, teams will become more important. Bringing together people with multiple skills and competencies leads to innovative products, services, and strategies.




Contact us today to discuss how we can partner together to help develop and grow your leaders and teams: jeff@wolfmotivation.com, 858-638-8260 or www.wolfmotivation.com


According to a Deloitte University Survey, leadership remains the #1 talent issue facing organizations around the world, with 86% of respondents rating it urgent or important. Only 13% of respondents say they do an excellent job developing leaders at all levels.


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