3 Leadership Takeaways from March Madness (and the Bracket Upsets Along the Way)

Article | Accountability Insights

by | May 11, 2018

Heart-pounding free throws, age-old rivalries...and lessons for business leaders? This year’s NCAA Tournament came with no shortage of teachable twists and turns.


“On good teams, coaches hold players accountable; on great teams, players hold players accountable,” said Joe Dumars, the 1985 first-round draft pick for the Detroit Pistons and two-time NBA championship winner.

Never is this truer than during March Madness—and the trials and tribulations of this year’s exciting NCAA playoff season offer valuable lessons for coaches of the corporate variety.

Inspired by the high levels of engagement, accountability, and teamwork seen on the court these past few weeks? We’ll let you in on the ways that savvy leaders can translate these game-winning secrets into organization-wide success.


Loyola Chicago: Establish Clear, Obtainable Goals

Loyola Chicago entered the tournament with the unfavorable low-ranking No. 11 seed position.

To keep up morale, Coach Porter Moser set clear goals for the team: “We have laser-like focus on what’s right in front of us. We just work on beating one team at a time.”

Working toward specific benchmarks, Loyola prepared themselves for one of the biggest games of their lives—and they delivered, opening up an unlikely 16-point lead over higher-ranked Kansas State.

This win underscores the value of setting measurable, clear, and obtainable goals. Leaders must determine three to four meaningful, measurable, and memorable Key Results for the whole organization. Every member of your organization should know them inside and out, such that all priorities and initiatives are framed in terms of those results. When teams are clear on what is expected, and the win is obtainable (even if it’s a stretch), they gain clearer focus as a group, work better as a team, and ultimately see goals through to completion.

Player Donte Ingram affirms this when he expressed: “We’ve had a vision since day one, and we put the work in to get here.”


UMBC: Encourage Collaboration Around the Win

The biggest shock of the tournament was the outcome of Virginia v. UMBC—the first time in history that a No. 16 seed (a team in the lowest-ranking tier in the tournament) beat a No. 1 seed. How did UMBC, a team that lost 10 games in their regular season, pull off the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history?

Coach Ryan Odom emphasizes the collaboration and teamwork behind this improbable win: “Our players are in-sync: they know where to find each other on the court.”

The secret to collaboration is ensuring that each player understands both what the team is trying to achieve as well as their direct impact on the result. Players show up differently and are more accountable when they know others depend on them and that what they do matters to the team and the result.

This culture of collaboration leads to further goodwill among the team—and even better results. As UMBC’s powerhouse guard Jairus Lyles puts it, “We just believed in each other.” And this attitude is contagious: “When Jarius has confidence, it breeds confidence in his teammates,” says Odom.


Villanova: The Power of Positive Accountability

Driven in its final showdown against No.3 seed Michigan by guard Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova is more than a great three-point shooting team. Coach Jay Wright often tells his players just to focus on their own agency: “Walk around with a great attitude. That’s what we can control.”

Wright encapsulates the power of positive accountability—the “personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving Key Results”—as defined in The Oz Principle. What does this mean? There are so many things outside of our control, but when each player focuses on the one or two things he or she can control, the result is deeper engagement and commitment to reaching critical benchmarks of success.

With improved engagement, workplaces see 59% less turnover, 17% higher productivity, and 21% higher profitability. According to Gallup, “engaged employees produce better business outcomes than other employees—across industry, company size and nationality, and in good economic times and bad.”

It’s clear that engagement drives productivity and can help an entire team become more accountable. In turn, accountability helps a team achieve their Key Results. Throughout the 2018 NCAA tournament, Villanova was the shining beacon proving that accountability is the competitive advantage.

Cultivate Champions at Work

If the ups and downs of this year’s tournament provide any one key takeaway for business leaders, it’s this: total personal and cross-functional accountability creates champions. Even underdog teams like UMBC and Loyola Chicago prove that strong leadership around a common vision and goal leads to increased commitment, teamwork, and accountability—all the things necessary to achieve extraordinary results.

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